I am a ghost. That seems like a reasonable admission to make on this Halloween.
Not the spectral type of ghost, though I remain invisible most of the time, but a flesh and blood ghost writer. My words, someone else’s name on the publication, someone else giving the speech. The acclamation of cold hard cash.
I didn’t set out to become a ghost. It happened by accident, like many things in my life. I don’t plan, I just go with the flow and see what develops. I’ve had some interesting careers that way – radio and writing being two of them.
I trained as a journalist, though I had already been writing for several years before getting my Journalism degree. The career seemed to make sense for someone useless with construction tools but with a certain love for words. I had fun as a journalist (and some stories from those times have crept into this blog; more will in the future).
When I became a ghost I didn’t realize what I was doing, I didn’t think through the ramifications. I had done some political writing, as a volunteer. In the beginning I got a kick out of hearing my words in speeches, especially the time I was asked to write a speech for the leader of a particular party. He was coming to town and someone was needed who could write about local issues. He didn’t use much of my material, but I did hear some of my words in his address.
When I accepted a job as a political assistant the description was “writing and research.” It was, but it was far more than that. I have a photo of the Prime Minister holding a book I wrote. I was about to add it to this post, but it doesn’t seem right somehow. My name is not on the cover. In fact, I removed it from the acknowledgments before it went to the printers because I felt it should have been better. And therein lies one of the principle drawbacks of ghostwriting.
To use a Biblical term, you have to die to yourself, you have to assume the voice of the person who will be giving the speech or whose name will be on the book cover. Some writers find that hard. I find it helps if you have spent time with your collaborator, if you have learned to think like they do. I wrote a speech this week for someone I have never met, have never heard speak. I liked it, but it sounded a lot like me.
I have joked with my friends that whenever any politician I work with opens his mouth in public, it is my words that should come out. If they don’t there could be trouble, because improvisation in politics is rarely a good thing. Too often I have not heard my carefully crafted speech, which causes me no end of frustration. In political writing the whole idea is to decide what the message is going to be and stick to it.
In the end the ghost can only do what he or she is instructed to do. Success of the message, in whatever form, belongs to the person who is delivering it. Some of us prefer to stay in the background and do our haunting in peace and quiet.
(This post is by request for Ella, who asked about the topic. Hey, I’m a radio guy, of course I’ll play your request!)