(And what you can learn from that…)
I’ve had more than one person marvel to me about my output as a writer. They say things like, “How do you manage to write so much so quickly? How do you not get writer’s block?”
My answer is that as a ghostwriter, I am not nearly as emotionally invested as you are as a writer. I’m not really thinking about what is going to happen after I’m finished writing it. I’m not as worried as you are about whether anyone will like it. I only really have to please one person, and that is you, the author. Nothing about this has anything to do with my identity. As far as I’m concerned, I am living my best life, because I love to write, and someone is paying me to do it.
Don’t get me wrong, I do care about whether your book sells. I would be so thrilled for you to make a million dollars on the book, even though I get none of the royalties. That is my prayer for every book that goes out. I am grateful to God everyday that I get to make part of my living writing.
The other thing is that, having written some of my own stuff, I know that the hardest part is knowing what to write about. But if you come to me with a story, the hardest part for me is done. The rest is just art. For a nonfiction book, if you tell me what your basic outline is, then nine times out of ten, the whole thing is already written in my mind, and I just have to sit down and type.
So the question is, what can authors learn from ghostwriters like me? Here are three things I can think of right away:
- Don’t let your book define you. You define your book. As a ghostwriter, my name is not likely even going to be listed. I will never be defined by your book. But even if it was my own book, out there with my name on it, my identity is not in what I do. My identity is in Christ. If you are reading this, and you are a Christian, then you know this. We get our identity from our Creator, who not only created us in his image, but also sent his one and only Son, Jesus to give his life for our forgiveness. Our identity is now in him. Our old self that lived for the opinions of the world (among other things) is dead. This means if I ever am tempted to define myself by my work and what people think of it, I have forgotten the fundamental truth of my faith. I am a child of God, rescued, redeemed, adopted by the King of the Universe. That is what defines me.
So everything I do after that is not about justifying my existence. If you are getting writer’s block, it may be that you are afraid to fail, because you are trying to justify your existence by creating something that everyone else will think is great. This is folly. It is a consequence of the fallen human condition. I pray that you can throw it off and put on Christ.
If what I do is not about justifying my existence, then what is it about? For me, it is about causality. I write because I love it, and it pays. If I write, then I get paid. I’m also glad that it helps you and your readers. Everything I do is about causality. My identity is covered. Now I’m into faithfulness and results.
- The second thing you can learn from me as a ghostwriter is that you don’t have time to wait for inspiration. Just start writing, and the inspiration will come. At any given time, I am writing seven to ten projects. Usually at least two of them are novels, three or four are Christian nonfiction, and then another couple are articles. How do I do it? By setting a timer based on my experience with how long it takes to do things, and just writing. If I do this, “miraculously,” I eventually notice that I’ve finished a book! You can only write so many words until you have to admit it’s done.
In this way, I have written some darn good stuff, if I do say so myself. Often, but not always, I’ll be going back through a book for final edits and think, “Wow, I wrote that?” Yes, at some point while plodding through, I got into flow and did my best possible work. If you just set a timer and get busy, you have moments of inspiration when you need them. Trust me on that.
- The third thing is similar to the first: Since no one but the author is judging me for the work, then I am not thinking about what anyone will think about it. Don’t write for other people. Write for yourself and for God. Many times, I can tell that someone had a goal to write a book, though they had nothing to say to the world. They have looked it up and seen what kind of stuff sells, and they are trying to make money. Now, I have no real problem with that. We’re all trying to make money, but doing it that way will never work out very well, because someone has already said what you’re saying.
On the other hand, if you have a message or story inside you that is unique, then you have something to say that someone, somewhere needs to hear. In that sense, you are writing for others, but in a more real sense, you are writing for you and God. If you find yourself wondering, “What will mom think of this?” Or “Won’t my tenth grade English teacher be sorry for giving me a C on that essay when I become a famous writer,” then you are going to struggle. Train yourself to write just for you and God—to write just to write. If it is supposed to sell, then it will. If you are really saying something that people need to hear, God has a way of getting your message where it needs to go.
As a ghostwriter, I have the luxury of getting all these things out of the way and just doing the fun part. If I can help you, I’d love to hear from you.