Glad You Asked Dept. 6/26/14
Today’s question is one that I get several times a week, and which I feel like I’ve answered even more than that. But over the years my answer has changed, so even if you think you know what I’ll say, read on and be…surprised?
Here’s the question, from Ilana R:
Hi LB. I’m hoping you can give me some advice.
I need to find a ghost author/writer, someone who can write a novel using the letters I saved from when I was in what turned out to be a very bad relationship and tried to communicate on paper with my significant other when all else failed.
I also have many incredible incidents from our life together to add to a story. It could be a juicy Fifty Shades of Grey kind of thing. In fact, so much went down that my big concern is that this project might be too monumental for anybody to tackle. Any thoughts?
And now my reply:
Dear Ilana R,
I’m not really clear on what your story would be, so please understand that in this answer I’m not passing any judgment on its creative or commercial possibilities. Instead, I’m addressing the issue of hiring someone else to write something based on your material and experiences.
Years ago, my advice would have been that you not go this route because of what I admit is my own personal philosophical (if I can call it that) outlook: Every writer I know already has a couple of million ideas that they want to be writing – and should be writing because those ideas are their personal dreams, an expression of their very souls.
In fact, the smart writers I know are writing them already, either for pay or because they’ve turned down paid assignments for other projects in order to concentrate on their own material. That’s what writers do; telling stories, after all, is a fulfillment of their destiny, and I really believe they – we – should be left alone to do our jobs.
What happened in your life obviously has affected you greatly, and since I believe not only in storytelling but in the act of self-expression as a valuable tool for sorting out a person’s writer’s thoughts and feelings, I would encourage you to write your story yourself and receive all the psychological as well as creative benefits that can bring.
Over the past couple of decades, however, my perspective has changed. (Decades?! Oh, crap, I’ve been around a long time!) In the ’90s, I took on some ghost writing gigs and although they paid very (as in “very”) well, they gave me a new perspective on the subject. I would and am still encouraging you not to hire anyone to put your experiences into words for a reason that I hope you can understand:
No other writer, no matter how talented s/he is, will ever be able to tell your story in a way that says what you want it way the way you want to say it. No other writer, no matter how hard s/he tries, will ever be able to get inside your head and present you to the reader or the viewer the way you want yourself presented. Because no writer – hell, no person – can ever see any other person the way that person “really” is. We all have our separate and private internal narratives – that’s what makes us “snowflakes,” see?
What I’m dancing around is this: You’re going to hate what your ghost writer writes. Even if it becomes a critical success. Even if it becomes a smash hit on the New York Times or Amazon.Com bestseller list. When you read the finished product you’re going to wish you’d never paid the son/daughter of a bitch to write it and want your money back. And if you haven’t paid, you’ll wish you did, thinking that then you could’ve gotten a “good” writer.
But there are no “good” writers for your personal story except – you. And no matter how much the thought of facing a blank page terrifies you, it’s definitely worth a try. For me, certainly, there’s nothing like the exhilaration that results from a day’s work at what is simultaneously the world’s most difficult and yet easiest job. And nothing better than that moment when I think about what I just wrote and how it felt to write it and take in a deep breath and let it out with a, “Wow.”
That’s right. “Wow.” The feeling of accomplishment runs deep and pure, even if no one else in the world ever reads it.
In fact, maybe it’s easier to feel good if no one else reads it. Then no one can think it sucked.
(Other people’s reactions to my writing never break the positive spell the act of writing granted me. Negative ones just piss me off.)
Give it a shot, Ilana, and tell me how it goes. You deserve to get the best feeling you can out of what originally played out as such a bad time.
That’s it, gang. I love addressing these issues, but I can’t answer if you don’t ask. So send your questions and make everyone’s day!