Boo! (Hoo) – My Life as a Ghost (Writer)

It took me many years of writing before I figured out how to make a living from our craft – all you need do is write the words of people that can afford to employ you as a hired gun (writer). Oh, there’s also the little matter of selling a piece of your soul to the devil.

My most monetarily successful year of writing occurred when I ghost-wrote four books. You notice my twitch? Yes, the money was good but it came with a price. Before I started ghosting books I decided to work only on non-fiction. Somehow I had it in mind that since I wasn’t writing fiction I would be able to keep producing my own words. Well, that didn’t happen, because in most of these projects it seemed as if I had to be a therapist in addition to being a writer. I signed a non-disclosure clause for most of my clients. Be aware that if your clients have the money to hire you as a writer, then it’s likely they also have a lawyer on retainer. That’s why no names or books are mentioned here. Since I am not officially a medical health professional I cannot say with a certainty that most of my clients suffered from psychiatric disorders, but I sure as hell have my suspicions.

If my appraisal seems a tad biased, it’s possible that my feelings color the reality. It is true that when I write the words of someone else I don’t have a proprietary feeling over what I created. Even though some of the books I ghosted won awards, I never felt invested in the work. The jobs were a means to an end. I guess my sentiments are best revealed by MY titles to those books, titles that are considerably different than what’s written on their covers.

The memoir book I refer to as BATHROOM REMODEL. As for the historical, it is HARDWOOD FLOORS. The financial book I call FRONT AND BACK LANDSCAPING. My title for the psychological self-help tome is MY SON’S FANCY LIBERAL ARTS COLLEGE. The rags to riches Horatio Alger story is INTERIOR AND EXTERIOR HOUSE PAINTING. The animal care book is MY SON’S FANCY LIBERAL ARTS COLLEGE, PART II.

Because those books paid the bills, that’s how I view them. That’s not how I look at my own novels (but maybe it would be healthier if I did).

Instead of whining, though, I should probably be grateful that I was able to ply a trade that was akin to my vocation.  Still, it’s not something I want to do again, as it seemed to sap my creative energy even more than other jobs I have worked. Maybe you can only look at a computer screen so many hours a day. Maybe my muse went on strike when I dipped my pen into another’s ink.

All of this actually does lead into one of my writing rules: Work a job that allows you to write. That might sound a little self-indulgent, especially with the current high rate of unemployment, but it should be the goal of any writer. When I graduated from college I decided to be a night auditor (a clerk that works the graveyard shift) in a hotel. It seemed like a good choice to me, as I imagined that I would have ample time to read and write (which proved true). Like any job, though, it had its pros and cons. When you work the graveyard shift you become a zombie, and lead a life that goes against the circadian rhythms of most of the world. And there was also the matter of my neither making much money, nor seemingly much headway into my professed career, while at the same time my peer group was going on to become doctors, lawyers, and Indian chiefs. Writing is a tough mistress. Deal with it.

Still, there are jobs, and there are jobs. Some work is all consuming, and doesn’t allow the hours to even dream about being a writer, let alone practice the craft. That’s not the kind of job a writer should be working. If you can’t carve out a respectable amount of hours every week to write, you will never have a chance of succeeding. My night auditor job allowed me to work and write full time.

My first literary agent once told me, “Alan, instant success in the writing field is a ten year wait.” She emphasized the word instant. It’s a carrot I have stuck in front of my nose for a long time. It’s another one of my writing dictums. You have to approach writing like you would a marathon. You train, train, and train just to be able to go those 26 miles. You learn how to persevere and grind it out. If you’re lucky, along the way you might get some insights as to how it’s the journey and not the destination, and along the way you get the chance to type The End a handful of times, but the carrot keeps you going towards another finish line, and another.