I started my ghostwriting career as a favor to a family friend — the kind of favor that someone does for you, by pretending they need a favor from you. I was months out of graduate school and desperate for a writing gig; he was well-known in our community and wanted help finishing his memoir. Dozens and dozens of pages of notes, thousands of hours, and exactly 21 months later, I had written a book. It was someone else’s book, sure. But from beginning to end, I had arranged and rearranged every single word.
Each book was like a puzzle. Disjointed notes or audio files combined with the particular nuances of each client’s personality to create a story.
Then, as is wont to happen if you finally work up the confidence to say "I’m a writer" when people ask you what you do, it seemed like everyone around me wanted to write a book, or believed they had a book-worthy story to tell, including the woman I babysat for, my fitness instructor, the cashier whose lane I preferred at the grocery store, the guys who came to steam clean the carpeting in my new apartment, a young mom I had become friends with, and the old man who always seemed to be checking his mailbox at the same time I did.
Most of these aspiring memoirists weren’t serious, but one was. Suddenly, I had another gig. This time, I found myself faced with hours upon hours of audio recordings, all of which needed to be transcribed and turned into something resembling literature. Again, somehow, I did it.
Through a referral, I was offered another opportunity to ghostwrite a book, and then another. Each time I wrote faster, cleaner, and better. Each book was like a puzzle. Disjointed notes or audio files combined with the particular nuances of each client’s personality to create a story. All of these stories were published without my name on them.
It’s rare that I experience writers’ block when ghostwriting. Even in the instances when a client has given me practically nothing to go off of — a title, a table of contents, a general picture of who they are and where they come from — I’ve dug in and found a way to produce the material they want. (Once, I even ghost-wrote some material off of nothing more than the synopsis of a client’s favorite movie and their list of all the reasons they like it.)
Meanwhile, my own book — a novel that I’ve had in my head and written piecemeal (very minimal piecemeal) — has been languishing for almost a decade. I’ve been sketching various manifestations of its characters for even longer.