Ghostwriter Diaries – The First Draft of Anything …


Ernest Hemingway said, “The first draft of anything is shit.”

Therein lies the eternal dilemma of the ghostwriter. Tight project schedules mean there’s very little time to write anything other than a first draft, before you submit it to the editing team.

That’s fine. The nature of the beast, really. Everyone on the team understands that my first submission is going to have some rough edges. But no writer with any pride wants to submit anything to anyone unless it’s word-perfect (an impossible goal, but we all dream). That’s why the first round of a ghostwriting project feels a little like exposing yourself in public.

Take today. I’ve just finished the prologue to the new novel. It’s longer than it needs to be, peppered with unnecessary background and exposition, and would undoubtedly benefit from a keen editor’s eye and ruthless red pen. A perfectly normal first draft, in other words, one with which I’m actually very happy. Were this a personal project of my own, I’d simply plough ahead in the sure knowledge I can keep the entire manuscript behind closed doors until I’m ready to parade it before the world.

As a ghostwriter, I can’t do that. All I can do is complete my mission, on schedule, and hope I’ll get a chance to do at least one editorial pass on the first draft before throwing it to the wolves. (That’s unfair – my editorial team aren’t wolves. They’re thoroughbred greyhounds. Also adorable puppies.)

Alternatively – and this is my chosen modus operandi – I can give myself permission to edit as I go. The downside is that I have to backtrack and revise much more than I might normally do with a first draft. The upside is that said first draft will be more polished than it would otherwise have been, the editorial team have a tighter manuscript to work with … and my eyes are a little more bleary.

And, with luck, it means the first draft stands marginally more chance of not being shit.

What do you think?

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