Ghost Writer

Once upon a time, many years ago, Hillary Clinton wrote a book called It Takes a Village.  I honestly have no idea what that book is about, but it will forever stick out in my memory.  It was this book that introduced me to the term and the concept of a “ghost writer”.

Ghost writer!

The very idea strikes fear into my bones.  It has always made me feel just a little but squirrely on the inside.  Why?  Well, a ghost writer is someone who writes a book for someone else.  They write it, someone else’s name goes on it.  Sure, the writer might get some little credit somewhere, but it’s the big celebrity’s name that gets plastered all over the cover.  It’s the famous person that takes all the credit.

I’ve always felt like having someone ghost-write a book for you is a little bit like cheating.  I mean, you didn’t really write that book, now did you, Hillary Clinton.  I’ve always tweaked my eyebrow just a little bit at the balls that it takes to pass someone else’s work off as your own.  Maybe this is because I’m a writer.  I think I would blow a gasket if someone tried to publish something that I wrote under their name.

But then there are the ghost writers themselves.  They make me a little uncomfortable too.  Who would want to have someone else take credit for their work?  Are they really so desperate to have something published that they would be willing to settle for putting someone else’s name on it?  This is outside of the scope of things I can fathom.

So yeah, ghost-written books have always made me uncomfortable.

And then I read Tim Gunn’s Gunn’s Golden Rules: Life’s Little Lessons for Making it Work.  Okay, I love Tim Gunn.  He is fabulous.  Hands down.  I stumbled across this book at a time when I was feeling particularly down.  I shelled out something like $20 to buy it.  I devoured it with a dedication that some people reserve for religious texts.  Part of the book brought me to tears.  Other parts had me in stitches.  Tim has such a wonderful, healthy perspective on life and how to get by.  He is Nice personified.  I want to give everyone this book and tell them to follow Tim’s rules for life.

I just found out it was ghost-written.

Nooooooo!  Oh the horror!  My hero!  My not-so-secret gay crush!  My mentor in all things nice!  Tim Gunn didn’t actually write this brilliant and wonderful book!

I believe this is what we call cognitive dissonance.

Okay, but here’s the thing.  The book is still wonderful in so many ways and on so many levels.  It really does have Tim Gunn’s voice.  I believe with my whole heart that he “wrote” it, even if he didn’t write it.  And seriously, not everyone can be a brilliant writer.  There are fabulous people our there with amazing things to say, but they aren’t Writers.  They need a little help.

So I have now revised my opinion of ghost writers.

I don’t think ghost-writing is that spooky after all.  I have come around to the point where I feel like maybe ghost writers are the therapists of the literary world.  They help people to articulate the things that they can’t find words for themselves.  They facilitate brilliance.  And really you have to be brilliant to facilitate brilliance.  It’s like those people who write official movie tie-in books and things.  They aren’t writing their own original story or characters but they have to recreate the mood and emotions of someone else’s characters in a way that won’t piss off the fans.  It takes a lot of talent to do something like that.

So hats off to you, Ada Calhoun!  You made my beloved Tim Gunn come alive on paper in a way so true to the man himself that I honestly believed he wrote the book.  I could have guessed by looking at the title page that you were the one who wrote down his words, but you did it with such aplomb that I didn’t even see the strings.

I’m glad I can see things in this new light now.  It makes me realize that this thing we call writing, that so many of the people I know do, is a far broader discipline than even I first thought.  I have learned something today.  It’s a good day.

7 thoughts on “Ghost Writer

  1. Merry –
    I am with right you with respect to the whole concept of ghost writing…it’s kind of like selling your soul. I would guess that if one wants to make some $ by being one, then that makes a little more sense to me from an economic perspective.

    Another angle, perhaps? What if a writer is looking to make a name for herself or himself? They want desperately to become published by one of the big six, and for some reason is unable to do so? What better way to get your foot in the door than by ghost-writing a book for a celebrity that becomes a best-seller? Or is it that celebrities only use writers who are already connected and/or famous? I really don’t know the answer to that question, but it doesn’t change my opinion that being a ghost-writer for someone else is less than desireable, IMO.


  2. Ghost writers are interesting folks. As Merry mentioned, they have to take on the voice of the person they’re writing for, and I’m sure they have a lot of limitations in what they can do while they’re writing. I’m sure for some it’s about the money, but for others, it’s likely about helping others tell their story in a way they can’t. Some people have great stories and need to share them, but they don’t have the ability. Ghost writers help them do that.

  3. I am a ghost writer, and to tell the truth, it has nothing to do with wanting to be published. It has everything to do with the money for me.

    I can earn money while doing what I love (writing) and I still have time to work on my own stuff such as novels, websites and the like.

    Plus, it’s fun to play around with different voices to satisfy my client’s needs.

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