Ghostwriter Diaries – Final Entry

NotebookShortly before Christmas, I commenced ghostwriting a fantasy novel. Four months and 85,000 words later, the manuscript is finished and my work is done (until I start on the sequel in September, that is). Before I turn my attention to my next project, I feel all of you who’ve stuck with me through this odyssey deserve some kind of closure. So I proudly present an interview I recently conducted with the ghostwriter himself … uh, that’s me, by the way.

Interviewing yourself is fraught with danger. Neither of us escaped the encounter entirely unscathed. To keep this family-friendly, I’ve cut out the expletives, and deleted a rather ugly exchange that occured towards the end of the session. The result is, I hope, enlightening. If there are any questions I failed to ask myself – and to which you’d like the answer – just use the comments box below.

Otherwise, all that remains is for me to thank you for reading these blog posts. I hope my ghostwriter diaries have given you at least a little insight into this challenging, infuriating, and ultimately rewarding tributary to the great river of creative writing. And now, it’s over to me. And, uh, me.

Interview with the Ghostwriter

So, Graham, why do you ghostwrite novels?

Well, Graham, I do it because they pay me, haha! But seriously …

So it’s all about the money?

Uh, you didn’t let me finish.

But you said it’s all about the money.

I didn’t say that.

Then what is it about? I can’t believe it satisfies you artistically. Ghostwriting’s just another form of prostitution, right?

Jeez, will you let me get a word in?

Sorry. Go ahead. My lips are sealed.

Right. Look. Here’s the thing. A ghostwriting gig is just like any other freelance creative assignment. You get a brief. You get deadlines. You sign a contract. You do the work. You get feedback. You revise the work. At the end of it, you get …

Hard cash?

Well, yes. But that’s not all.

It isn’t?

No. Look, it’s impossible to write a novel without it getting under your skin. Well, I suppose some writers could manage it, but the end result would be crap – the worst kind of hackwork.

So you’re not the worst kind of hack?

I’ll pretend I didn’t hear that question.

If you’re not a hack, what are you?

A ghostwriter.

We’re going round in circles here.

You started it.

But what do you do as a ghostwriter?

It’s very simple. I write a novel based on a detailed outline provided by my client.

So the story isn’t yours?

No.

But the words are?

Yes.

Do you get your name on the cover when it’s published?

No.

Nobody knows you wrote it?

Not always. Sometimes the publishers are happy to reveal me as the writer behind the pseudonym. Mostly I stay anonymous.

So does the book feel like it’s yours?

Well, it isn’t wholly mine. It’s a team effort. But I have a lot invested in it. So yes. And no.

Sit on the fence, why don’t you?

It’s the truth.

Is it hard work?

Extraordinarily hard. Both practically – the deadlines are punishing – and emotionally. Creative writing always puts you through the wringer, whether you’re a ghost or not. If it doesn’t, you’re doing it wrong.

So there’s pain?

Yes.

And what do you gain?

Oh, lots of things.

Like what? Give me a list.

I gain the satisfaction of writing a novel that people will read and, I hope, enjoy. I gain the incomparable pleasure of immersing myself in a fictional world for a given period of time, of acquainting myself with its imaginary characters, and having them do imaginary deeds at my behest. I gain the thrill you can only get from the creative act, when I conjure something that wasn’t in the outline but which sprang unbidden from my imagination, and which sheds new light on a hitherto unexplored relationship between those characters, or the particular line of a narrative thread, or an unexpected twist of the plot. I gain experience in my craft by shaping prose for a purpose, turning words into sentences, sentences into paragraphs, paragraphs into chapters, chapters into acts, acts into a completed novel. I gain experience of working with members of a highly talented editorial team, in partnership with whom I’m able not only to develop my own skills, but also to observe the skills of others, learning from their approach and seeing the process of creative writing through different eyes. I collaborate, I debate. I forge cutting steel from raw iron. In short, I write. Does that answer your question?

I forget what the question was.

You asked me why I ghostwrite novels.

Oh. Right. Uh, and did you ever actually answer me?

You weren’t paying attention?

Guess I must have drifted off. So, it’s all about the money, right?

Give me strength …

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