Ghostwriting and Impulses


Most of us experience this at some point in our lives – a tightening in our guts, the sense that we better pay attention to what our emotions are telegraphing. So we try to take it in, understand it, decipher it, and come up with – well, zero. But impulses are another facet of this and I tend to act on them when I experience them.  This happened to me recently with a ghostwriting project.

Ghostwriting projects usually have their own level of weirdness, depending on the name attached to the actual project. The arrangement is one in which a writer is hired to write someone else’s novel, memoir, self-help book, or whatever. The writer usually gets no credit, no share of the royalties, and because of that is paid more to write the book.

Our first experience with this was with a Mafia woman in New York. Our second experience was with an actor in a popular movie who wanted to come to our house and sit with us as we wrote the book. In the love scene we’d written, he said, we hadn’t depicted how he made love to his wife.

We turned that project down.

Ghostwriting is a peculiar relationship. Your client has a particular vision for novel or nonfiction book and your vision, as the writer, may be leagues removed. One client, for instance, wanted her novel to begin with the last chapter of the book.

“Why there?” I asked.

So that her protagonist’s story could be shown to come full circle. Well, it was good she knew the end of her story, but it didn’t belong at the beginning of the book. Every novel, every story, has a beginning, a middle, an end. Jerzy Kosinski used to write his endings first, a process that actually makes sense, even if the ending changes. You have a beginning, an end, and what lies in between is the mystery, the weirdness, the clues, the character and plot development.

With this particular project, I don’t hear from the client for long stretches of time. It slows things down considerably – the writing and my payment. One day I had the impulse to  just write her and ask if she was still on board with the project. This got an immediate response. Yes, she was. Then, another long period of silence. Once again, I had the impulse to email and ask if she was in or out of the project. And I got another quick response. Yes, she’d been traveling and had some notes to send me. Once the notes are integrated into the story, she would be ready to move into the next phase of the project.

So now, because I acted on an impulse, I know this is just her MO. But it’s not MY M.O. Novels have a momentum all their own. If too much time passes from page to page, that momentum lags or dies altogether. It’s now been more than 3 months since this project began. We have an outline and 5,000 words. In this same time frame, I’ve written 200 pages- about 50,000 words –  on a new novel.That’s my M.O. Get the first draft down fast. Then revise.

My sense is that the ghostwriting project is headed for the graveyard called, Done, Unfinished, & Buried. No viewing, no funeral. Please don’t send flowers!


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2 Responses to Ghostwriting and Impulses

  1. c.j. says:

    I had a very unpleasant experience regarding ghost writing. A NASA ground astronaut asked me if I would ghost write his expose on NASA’s awareness of and interaction with UFOs and ETs. (NASA had fired him.) I initially agreed because he had been referred to me by a really close friend who is an authority on the subject, AND, I thought it might be fun. I was wrong. The guy sent me his initial chapters, and as I read, the more appalled I became. He simply could not write. Period. His ideas were great but his manifestation of his ideas was horrible. I cringed as I read them. So, I sat down and kept his ideas (most of them) but attempted to put them in a readable format. He went berserk. I withdrew. Never attempted to ghost write for anyone again. Writing for me is strange. I sat down one day with just an IDEA for a story. It was a fantasy-fairy tale. I had no clue what I was going to write. None. Zip. And yet the words kept spilling onto the pages. I didn’t know from one word to the next, from one page to the next, what was coming, and I didn’t know the end. I just wrote. It turned out to be a story about how the “music” of the ocean can be heard when we put a conch shell against our ear. The title of the little story was THE MIRACLE OF THE RAINBOW CONCH. Most of my literary work….poems, poetry, stories….are like this. I honestly haven’t a clue how it will go, so am unable to provide a sketch or outline for publication. Nonetheless, I enjoy writing and find it to be therapeutic for me. Ghostwriting, though? Nope. I envy your ability to go that route, MacGregors. It takes a special ‘knack’ to be able to do the work for someone else without squashing their feelings!!!!!

    • Rob and Trish says:

      I remember that story about the NASA guy, CJ. Some of these ghostwriting projects have been fun, easy, and we’ve met some interesting people. Others – not so much!