Confessions of a Ghostwriter

Ghostwriter 05_26_14“I write to discover what I know.” – Flannery O’Connor

Writing is an inglorious profession even though we writer types too often long for recognition. “I would write if I never made a dime or saw my name in print anywhere,” are words often heard from key note speakers at writer’s conferences. Conference attendees nod approvingly as though none of them came in hopes of finding an agent so they can get published so they can sell books so they can … you get the idea. Admit it or not, we talk a lot about not caring about the glory but embracing that is a different matter altogether.

More than a few seem stymied by my decision to sign a ghost writing contract last year. Doesn’t it bother you that your name won’t be on it?” they ask. I sanctimoniously answer “no” while secretly knowing the truth of that statement is more than suspect.

Am I tempted to spill the beans and tell someone I’m not supposed to? Not really. Perhaps that’s because before signing the contract I saw the Roman Polanski film, The Ghost Writer and read Ghostwriter by Travis Thrasher. Here’s a brief synopsis of both:

The Ghost Writer: A ghostwriter stumbles onto a secret that places his life in danger as he takes down the life story of a former U.K. prime minister in this Roman Polanski-helmed adaptation of the Robert Harris novel. Convinced by his agent that he’s been granted a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, talented British screenwriter “The Ghost” (Ewan McGregor) agrees to aid British prime minister Adam Lang (Pierce Brosnan) in completing his memoirs after the leader’s former aide dies under mysterious circumstances. Almost immediately after The Ghost arrives at a remote mansion in the U.S. to begin working with the prime minister, Lang is accused of committing a war crime by a former British cabinet minister. Amidst a deluge of protestors and reporters, The Ghost delves into the unfinished manuscript and comes to the terrifying conclusion that his predecessor died because he discovered a link between Prime Minister Lang and the CIA. The more information The Ghost uncovers, the more convinced he becomes that his life could be in danger as well.

Ghostwriter by Travis Thrasher: For years Dennis Shore has thrilled readers with his spooky bestselling novels. Now a widower, Dennis is finally alone in his house, his daughter attending college out of state. When he’s stricken by a paralyzing case of writer’s block and a looming deadline, Dennis becomes desperate. Against better judgment, he claims someone else’s writing as his own, accepting undeserved accolades for the stolen work. He thinks he’s gotten away with it . . . until he’s greeted by a young man named Cillian Reed–the true author of the stolen manuscript. What begins as a minor case of harassment quickly spirals out of control. As Cillian’s threats escalate, Dennis finds himself on the brink of losing his career, his sanity, and even his life. The horror he’s spent years writing about has arrived on his doorstep, and Dennis has nowhere to run.

That is enough to convince me to keep my mouth shut.

In truth, only a few books are timeless. Andrew Crofts, who has ghostwritten over 80 published books, observes:

Only the smallest percentage of books get reviewed. Most vanish completely from the shelves within a few months of publication, and are usually pretty hard to find even during those few months.

Books are transitory but the art of words, ideas and writing is not. Flannery O’Connor said, “I write to discover what I know.” That is what is lasting about writing – discovering what I know and I would add what I don’t know. Writing is indeed an inglorious profession if recognition, prestige, and wealth are the reasons you have embarked on its path. But if learning what I know and don’t know is important, then perhaps writing (ghost or not) is the one of the most fulfilling things I can do.

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  • Nicole Petrino-Salter

    Good post, Tim. You’re not short on humility, my friend. Good man.

  • writingzombie

    I won’t lie… I’m not as accepting of the “I don’t care if I ever see my name in print” mantra anymore. After ghosting 6 books, it would be nice if just one had my name listed as the author. While I enjoy the acquisition of knowledge and all that, I’ve gotten to the point that I won’t write another book for another person until I’ve written one for myself. It doesn’t matter if it’s a dud and only one copy sells — to me — I want that book to have been produced. :) I thought we were supposed to mellow out as we aged… I’m getting more persnickety! LOL