When I was a kid, there was a PBS show called “Ghostwriter” that aired sometime between Reading Rainbow and Kratt’s Kreatures/Arthur. From what I gathered, it was about a group of meddling kids who solved mysteries with the help of a ghost-like orb that communicated by bopping around on a typewriter. In my very literal 5 year old way of thinking, “ghostwriting” was writing done by a ghost, usually in a haunted house (obviously). I also was not an avid viewer of this particular show.
Fast forward a couple decades, and here I am, a ghostwriter- that is, a person whose writes something that gets attributed to someone else (I didn’t become a ghost for this gig, and I already have other plans for my future-ghost-self). Ghostwriting is probably my favorite role at Breaking Even. When my family and friends ask the obligatory “how’s work going” question, this is what I bring up most. In fact, I was in the middle of stacking wood the other night and was randomly struck by the joy ghostwriting brings me, and I thought about the reasons why I enjoy ghostwriting. And that’s the story of how this blog post was conceived. Here’s the slightly more polished version of my yard-work musings:
Why do I like ghostwriting?
It’s like a game of dress up. In order to adapt someone else’s voice, I have to first strip away my own opinions, biases, experiences, etc. It’s important to get in the right head-space-in order to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes, you should first take your own off. Once I’ve done that, it’s easy to become almost anyone. Of course, I usually go through older content a client has produced to get a feel for tone, commonly used words or phrases, etc. to get a feel for what this person would typically write, and then tweak based on the assignment (maybe they are hoping to sound more funny and approachable, or are trying to target a different demographic). It’s challenging, but I get to pretend to be someone else for a bit, and it’s kind of amazing.
When I explain this part of the process, people often ask: Doesn’t it feel like you’re selling your soul? Nope. If anything, ghostwriting is fuel for my soul. It’s a unique opportunity to temporarily see the world through another’s eyes. It’s a way to empathize with their experience. Marketing isn’t all about creating the perfect combination of words to get people to buy in. There’s a deeper level of connection involved. Plus, people used to believe the same thing about actors back in the day.
Probably the most common question I get asked is “But don’t you want credit for what you write?” Well, I do get credit- just not in the sense of being able to say a certain article was written by yours truly. The best form of compliment a ghostwriter can receive: “I can’t even tell you wrote this.” Perfect- that’s the point. As this Hubspot article so eloquently puts it: “Your opinion is moot, and therefore should be mute.” I “appear” in these projects for matters concerning structure and organization and crafting a cohesive, interesting piece (generally that’s what the job hinges on).
Who hires ghostwriters, anyway?
So, yes, ghostwriting is fun for us. But, why do businesses hire ghostwriters in the first place? It might be a matter of skill- some people enjoy the running of the business and engaging with customers, but find it difficult to sit down at a computer and write. It could also be a matter of time- there are only so many hours in a day, and blogging/emailing/marketing might occupy a lower space on the to-do list. It’s comforting to know that while you’re out and about working on the “hustle” portion of your business, people like us are taking care of the other stuff (email newsletters, blog posts, etc). Businesses of all shapes and sizes can benefit from ghost writers. Start-ups can use ghost-writers to market for them while focusing energy on other areas of growth and getting into a groove. Established businesses might use ghost writers every now and then when employees have bigger fish to fry and don’t have time to spare, during a busy season or transition period. They may not require it full time, but there’s some peace of mind knowing that resource is there to tag in when you need it.
Other times, it can be helpful to have a ghostwriter act as a liason between a business/person with very specialized, extensive knowledge on a topic and the laymen. When you’re incredibly passionate and knowledgeable about a topic, you sometimes forget that not everyone shares this knowledge, and end up accidentally losing people. Instead, you can dump all this knowledge on a ghostwriter, who will ask follow up questions and do a bit of extra research, and he/she will craft a piece that will inform your customers without overwhelming them. In other words, ghostwriters can serve as translators.
If we went back and time and told 5 year-old me that I’d be a ghostwriter, I’d probably cry and wonder why my ghost wasn’t up to more interesting shenanigans. Present day me loves ghostwriting, and probably wouldn’t mind writing from beyond the grave, either.