People often ask me: are you a ghostwriter? And I usually reply, well, not really. Not because I don’t do what ghostwriters do: write books that get published with someone else’s name on the cover. But because the idea of ghostwriting carries a connotation of secrecy and subterfuge that has nothing to do with the way I work with my clients.
I love the fact that most of my clients are only too happy to tell people they’ve worked with me. They don’t feel any less of a “real” author because they’ve collaborated to give birth to their books. Writing is a specialist skill that takes some aptitude and years of practice. Oftentimes, those with the most important things to say are not those who’ve spent years in front of a computer honing their mastery of the written word. Yes, there are some people who are blessed with great writing skills and have something significant to share with the world. But there are many more people who have been far too busy doing important work to train as writers. Through collaboration, they’re able to share that work with a broader audience without having to take too much time out or learn a whole new skill-set.
I see the function of collaborators like myself as a translative one. The written word is a particular language that not all of us are equally fluent in. Many of the people I work with are masters in other languages—the language of teaching, of speaking, or of action. I help them translate their amazing wisdom into the language of words on paper. When a great writer’s work is translated into another language, we don’t think of it as any less their own. I feel the same way about authors who work with collaborators. They’ve already done the hard part—shaping, refining, and testing original ideas; working to build a business, a practice, or a community; living a life worth writing about.
The novelist Graham Swift wrote, “If you can’t stand your own company alone in a room for long hours, or, when it gets tough, the feeling of being in a locked cell, or, when it gets tougher still, the vague feeling of being buried alive—then don’t be a writer.” I’d offer a revised ending to that quote—“then write with a collaborator.” I think it’s time to do away with the myth that to be a “real” writer you need to spend hours locked away with your computer, staring down a blank screen. If you’ve got something important to say, find someone to help you say it!