Today we are thrilled to have Melody Meiners guest posting for us on the subject of ghostwriting! Melody herself is a ghostwriter-for-hire, as well as a freelance writer and editor! Read on to learn more about the mysterious ghostwriter profession!
Survey any college writing program’s student on their post-graduation goals. If you find one, just one, person who says they plan to go into ghostwriting I will stare at your response and say, wow, that’s weird. Now, in that same survey, ask them if they want to go on and earn their MFA. If you find one, just one, who says they haven’t considered it, I will stare at your response and ask, what the hell kind of college did you pick? Let’s start this survey business over, and this time, I’m going with you.
Since straightening my pen and paper clips on my desk and declaring myself a pen-for-hire, I have learned a lot about myself and the writing business. I am still amazed I get paid to write words, but I have heard the same sentiment from a lot of people who love their work in a lot of different industries. I get a lot of questions about my job. But they are typically the same three:
What exactly does a ghostwriter do?
Being a ghostwriter means I get to sit down with people who have a story to tell, and help them turn that story into a book, short story, essay, or even a blog post. I meet with people who have run billion-dollar companies who want to pass their story along with their inheritance, and I get to work with small businesses who want to share their philosophies and business principles. My job is to listen, ask questions, help them shape their message, and then turn it into a story. It requires a lot of collaboration, organization, and the ability to be transparent with your processes. The most challenging part of the job is sharing something you know isn’t finished, and being willing to brainstorm the creative and thematic elements. However, that can be fun if you are careful about the people you work with and the projects you pick.
How did you get into ghostwriting?
For most of us, the path to ghostwriting isn’t quite as direct as say, English Lit major to barista training. Now, before you slam on your capslock, I have a piece of paper from a private liberal arts school saying I’ve read a lot of books and have earned the right to make such jokes. However, after spending the last several years writing things under other people’s bylines, I wonder why more students do not consider ghostwriting a serious option. After the 2008 economy made me a free-agent, I put it out in the world that I would write for food. The services I offered grew over time, and I was always honest about when something was my first gig in the field. You would be surprised how many people are willing to give a fresh voice a chance if they have a portfolio of writing in other areas.
What do you get out of ghostwriting?
Most writers have a hard time understanding why I’d write without a byline. You have to swallow a lot of pride, but there is no better way to learn the importance of putting one word after another, then another, until you’ve finished. I haven’t earned my MFA. However, I was paid to learn the discipline a lot of writers credit their programs for giving them. I am not arguing the merits of an MFA or not, believe me, I’m not sold either way. But, I’ve learned:
- Deadlines build books, and deadlines are hard.
- Being nosy is not a flaw, it is a talent. But don’t let the research eclipse your writing.
- Sometimes a calamity of choices is just a calamity. You have to stay organized.
- Voice and style are hard, but there isn’t a book without one.
- I love words, but a love of expensive words and slapping your reader with a thesaurus does not a story make.
Writing is hard work, and a lot of times I can’t work on my stuff when I’m elbows-deep in a client’s project. However, knowing that other writers have been able to work on multiple projects at once gives me hope that I will master that skill one day. As with any craft, writing is about always learning and growing, and mastering an art or skill also requires thousands of hours of practice. I think ghostwriting forces me to look at writing as a job as much as it is an art and skill.
My cousin and I were eight-years-old when we found a hideout; it was a flat, tar-covered roof top on the dance studio building on our town’s main street. You had to be lithe and brave to jump over the rails at the head of a steep staircase to reach it, but once you were up there, you could hide behind three feet of brick facade and watch everything happening below. For hours we sat completely undetected by all of the adults, parental and neighborly, who would likely have had a heart attack if they saw us up there. The best part was when you shouted down random things as people passed by; they never knew where the voices were coming from, even if the town was small enough everyone knew the voices themselves.
Ghostwriting, to me, is that secret rooftop. True, this type of work may not be suited to every writer, but I can’t help the tiny tug of fear my little roof will get crowded once the secret gets out. I feel lucky that I get to build relationships with so many different people, and help them put stories out into the world. And every story I write has taught me something more about writing that I can apply to my stories.
About the author: Melody Meiners is a St. Louis-based freelance writer, editor, and ghostwriter-for-hire (melodymeiners.com). When she isn’t writing or reading words, she spends her time devouring all of the pop-culture and theater. You can find her on Twitter (@cosmosgirl) when she really should be writing, and you can read her pithy jokes about her children on her blog (MrsSmartyPants.com).