It usually goes like this.
Someone asks me what I do. I say, I’m a writer. They are impressed but also skeptical. They usually need to know if it’s like, my real job.
So, they ask me if it’s my job. I say, yes. Then they are wildly impressed and my cool factor goes up 200 points.
They ask me what I write. I tell them I write all kinds of things and I mention ghostwriting because that’s my bread and butter.
This is when it really gets interesting.
They ask me what it’s like to ghostwrite or co-author with people. They wonder if it somehow puts me out or disenfranchises me when my name isn’t necessarily stamped on the words I write.
For this, I generally have two responses, one mental and one emotional. Here they are:
Mental: Put Hemingway out of your head for a moment and call to mind a glassblower. There are many highly skilled glassblowers in the world who work under the aegis of something or someone else. They make stuff and their name isn’t on it. That’s exactly what I do sometimes. This glassblower metaphor is cute but it also comes with some tough love. It asks you to reject the idea that crafting language is somehow elite, somehow different from any other craft out there. Can you sever writing from the notion of individual genius, the sway of one particular soul or brain occupying its own terrain, its own pure, white space.
(You can be like me and accept both versions above, with your own modifications).
Emotional: The truth about why it doesn’t make me uncomfortable to help others understand and write their stories is simple. The truth starts when I meet my clients and get to know them. I only work with people who inspire me, who have a uniquely strong story and some light to bear on the world. After that, the truth happens in a succession of moments, when I read a transcript and think deeply about their words, their story. When I interview them, comb over the documents. When they cry. They pay me to understand something they can’t fully grasp. I empathize because I have a hard time grasping my own story. The truth is that when I’m honored enough to be invited to listen deeply to someone’s entire story, it’s breathtaking. I feel something. I respond because (not in spite of the fact that) something that is no and will never be, mine. My business-as-usual begins to look like being left speechless and floored by the bravery, integrity and beauty of their human story – their willingness to face and share so much of themselves honestly.
I can’t own another person’s story. I can only facilitate it in various ways. If I could assume ownership of it, what would be the point?