November 1, 2016 David Oluwadare

What is a ghostwriter?

a photo of someone ghostwriting

What is a ghostwriter? There are a number of myths and misconceptions surrounding the term. To those unfamiliar with this term, the image that comes to mind when first hearing it is of an intangible, supernatural being with an unworldly passion for writing. Unfortunately for some, the true meaning of the term has no connection to the paranormal whatsoever!

According to a quick Google search, a ghostwriter is ‘a person whose job it is to write material for someone else who is the named author.’ This is broadly true. However, the job of ghostwriter is far more complex and wide-ranging than this simplistic definition implies.

This blog post aims to explore what a ghostwriter truly is, with a focus on ghostwriters of autobiographies.

Different types of ghostwriting

Under the general title of ghostwriter exists myriad ghostwriting roles. Jobs for ghostwriters include creative works such as autobiographies, fiction novels, screenplays, movies and music. However, ghostwriters can also be hired for professional works like business reports, medical documents and speeches.

The unifying hallmark of all ghostwriters is, obviously, the ability to write. However, this is where the similarities end between the differing ghostwriting roles and the ghostwriters that carry them out

A chameleon will alter its skin tone, relative to the colours and the situations that it finds itself in. Similarly, ghostwriters must be able to disassociate themselves from any fixed styles or preferences when it comes to each writing job. Different clients have different requirements. A skilful ghostwriter must be able to effectively grasp the tone and style in which a client wants their story to be portrayed and then tell it in that manner. Ostensibly a ghostwriter must leave their ego at the door – the most important thing is to pay attention to the brief that a client has given them. This ability to alter and change one’s style of writing is not an easy feat, and this may come about as a result of years within the field, or they may just be gifted with natural ability.

Ghostwriting autobiographies

Neil A. Edwards, one of Story Terrace’s fantastic ghostwriters believes that two of the most important characteristics and skills required  of a good autobiographical ghostwriter are empathy and visualisation.:

Empathy

“Empathy is king and key. It rules over all other attributes and unlocks the only genuine route to success. Without a fulsome ability to ‘wear’ the pain of another person, to feel their tears running down your cheek, then you might as well stop before you begin.”

Visualisation

“One needs to be able to ‘visualise’[…] If you can’t see it, then you’re not going to be able to paint the requisite pictures for the client. You’ll misshape their house, the field they lived nearby as a toddler, describe the wrong streams and create a cast of characters who people only your version of the story being told, not the history as it was lived.”

These are just two of the many skills that a good autobiographical writer should have. Empathy, however, is not a critical requirement in all form of ghostwriting. A ghostwriter transcribing a business report for a client, for example, requires little empathy to perform the task!

learn more about the skills required to be a good autobiographical ghostwriter (The Recipe for a Good GW).

According to a ghostwriter of autobiographies: What is a ghostwriter?

So far, this post has given a definition of a ghostwriter, and highlighted some of the different types of ghostwriters. However, the question still remains: what is a ghostwriter, from an actual ghostwriter’s perspective? According to this rather poetic description from Neil A. Edwards, a ghostwriter:

“filters the raw material of their own…lives through the lives of others’ – other people’s voices, other people’s minds, other people’s skins; and each time they do so, they themselves grow richer, having greeted the universe – and its catalogue of associated ills and joys – through another set of more enlightened eyes[…]They don’t mind living in shadows, for life is more stimulating in darkness. It heightens the senses, makes them more alive.”

So we see, the role of a ghostwriter is far more complex than Google would have us believe. The role extends far beyond the ability to write. It is fated only for a chosen few who are gifted with the ability to meet their clients’ needs whilst putting their own style aside for the sake of the brief.

Gain more insight into the perspective of a ghostwriter (Q & A with Story Terrace Ghostwriter Clare Pugh).

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