Thursday, July 06, 2006

On Being a Ghost Writer

It was at the London Book Fair this year that I was tackled by someone who resembled one of the LL’s, Literary Ladies, described in Dicken’s Martin Chuzzlewit.

“So you’re a ghost writer,” she said, in much the same tone of voice that Victorian clergymen must have used when addressing ladies of the town on a Saturday night in The Haymarket. “Whatever made you become one of those?”

Apparently detecting a slight odour of malfunctioning drains, she didn’t wait for a reply, spotting someone far more distinguished passing by and sheered off in search of some intellectually challenging conversation.

Of course, no writer wakes up one morning and thinks to himself, “Gosh, it’s a beautiful day. I think I’ll be a Ghost Writer.” It occurs more by happenstance. Some struggling penman, having noted that you have a bit of expertise in the matter, asks for your help. And Bingo, you’re a Ghost Writer.

Most of us started elsewhere other than in the book writing department. For myself, my first literary job that paid was as an advertising copywriter, a ghost writing job if ever there was one – and pure fiction, to boot!

But once on the treadmill, it’s hard to escape. There are some serious caveats to the business however.

Firstly, you must enjoy writing – and in differing styles to suit your client.

Secondly, you had better park your ego somewhere for there’s unlikely to be much fame for you in the trade.

And lastly, but most importantly, you must have the ability to plug away and grind out a substantial number of words each day. That psychosomatic disease, writer’s block, is not allowed in the profession.

But the advantages for those of us that can overcome these obstacles are substantial.

Fascinating people and diverse subjects come your way that you would never encounter otherwise.

And never forget that, whilst you may not make a fortune from a best-seller, it should provide you with a steady income – and a very pleasant way of earning a crust of bread.


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