What Ghostwriting Taught Me

Screenshot 2014-12-09 at 3.29.52 PM

1. I don’t have time for perfection

I’ve never considered myself a perfectionist, except when it comes to fiction. When I first started writing stories, I would frequently write eight different beginnings. I never finished my fantasy trilogy I planned. When we switched computers and I copied all my files over, I would find at least five documents with completely different stories with the same title. Committing to detail outlines has alerted my tendency to write and rewrite, but I still have trouble feeling satisfied with my fiction. Ghostwriting changed all that. On my second fiction job, I had to write a 35,000 novel in a week. For you math folks, that is 5,000 words a day. In theory, that didn’t sound too bad. I had been writing non-fiction at that rate for a while. Fiction is completely different. Your sentences can’t all have the same structure. Characters have to make sense and be somewhat consistent. There has to be action and resolution. To meet my deadline, I had to shrug off perfection and settle for “decent.” I was able to finish that assignment in 8 days, which brings me to my next lesson…

2. Don’t push too hard

A week to write 35,000 words is an absurd deadline. With ghostwriting, I typically set my own schedule. My boss says, “As soon as possible, but as long as it takes,” which is not especially clear, but it usually means I write between 10-20k a week. When I wrote the second half of that particular novel, I gave myself two weeks to write the 35,000. It was a much wiser choice and ultimately made for a better book. I was able to finish a little early and go back to do edits. By not pushing myself, a better product was produced.

3. Letting go is hard

So I technically already knew this. But I didn’t know it applied to writing. I could write one book in a series and someone else writes the others. For my most recent book, I was fortunate enough to write both parts. When I finished the first and wasn’t sure if I would be asked to do the second, I felt weird and abandoned by my characters. What would happen to them? I had ended the book on a slight cliffhanger and had written it so fast, there was no time to process. My characters feel like my friends: I know their likes and dislike, feel their fears and joys, and worry about their families and future. Letting go of them and leaving their fates up to a stranger is not easy. It basically proves that letting go is never easy, regardless of what it is.

4. I’m a good writer

For two of my assignments, I finished what other people started. In reading what they wrote, I realized that I’m a good writer. I pay attention to sentence structure and word choice. I know when something needs to be elaborated on. I don’t really think about myself in comparison to others when it comes to writing, but it is nice to realize I’m better than most people. That’s not an arrogant statement, it just is. I’ve spent years really caring only about writing and written a ton for high school and college, so I should hope I’ve gotten good over the years.

5. I want to own what I write

As a ghostwriter, I don’t have rights over anything I write. My name will not appear on any final products. For most of what I write, I don’t care. I wrote an erotic novel a couple months ago which I’m kind of glad I’m not associated with, not because it’s bad, it’s just not great. But then there’s the good stuff I write. I’ve written TONS of prepping books (“prepping,” as in, preparing for a large scale disaster like economic collapse, weather event, etc) and I’m basically an expert now. It would be nice if my name was on those, so I could be recognized. It’s also a pain to want to maybe post some of what I wrote, but having to remember I can’t claim credit for it anywhere online. I even had to edit this post, because I gave the plot details for the novel and realized, probably shouldn’t do that because it could be traced back to me. I also have to remember if I get a really good idea for something, I need to think about if I want to keep it for myself, or send it out there to be claimed by someone else. Ghostwriting is definitely a temporary thing for me. I want to own what I write, mistakes and all.

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