This post from our resident ghostwriter first published here on April 29, 2010.
There are stories told about Mozart, brought to life in the 1984 movie Amadeus, that Mozart could simply sit down and write perfect music without ever having to amend, change, fix, tweak, or rewrite. Music so beautiful it sounded like the angels wrote it flowed out of his leaky fountain pen, his fingers propelled by God.
Despite loving the movie, I never believed those stories about Mozart. I would bet a lot of money that he revised and edited, just like everyone else. In fact, a friend of mine attended a lecture given by a composer who had acquired a copy of an original Mozart piece of music. It was nearly impossible to read because of the scribbles Mozart had made all over it.
But even if it was true of Mozart that he needed no editing or revisions – I am not Mozart. Nor is anyone else I know. As I write, I know that I will think of ways to make my writing more compelling, that I’ll go back and streamline, chop, highlight, fix sloppy phrasing, you name it. I will have to edit, and I’ll probably have to revise.
The readers of this blog are mostly professional writers, so you already know this. But I am a ghostwriter, and I write for people who are not writers. One of the challenges of ghostwriting is that I have to share interim rough drafts with my clients, so they know how things are progressing. I need their feedback on whether I still have their authentic voice, and if I’ve got their facts straight. I don’t want to get to the end of the book and find out I’ve been proceeding merrily down a path my client never wanted to take.
But because my clients are not professional writers, they often have a totally unrealistic idea of what a professional writer does. They expect these first drafts to be polished creations with no mistakes and prose that would make Shakespeare weep.
People who aren’t professional writers often think that professional writers are Mozarts. They think we can make magic words zip right off our fingers, without having to edit or revise, ever. Isn’t that what they are paying us for?
I must explain to them, often more than once, that this is the exact opposite of what does happen. Professional writers know that the first (or the second or third) version will not be the final one, and that revisions and edits are the very factors that make them a professional.
So just a reminder, in case one of my clients is reading this: I am not Mozart.
Kim Pearson is an author, ghostwriter, and owner of Primary Sources, a writing service that helps others become authors of professional and compelling books and articles. She has authored 6 books of her own, and ghostwritten more than 30 non-fiction books and memoirs. To learn more about her books or services, visit http://www.primary-sources.com/.