Monday, November 19, 2012

The Grateful Ghost

I love my job. I know how lucky this makes me, and in this season of thanksgiving I give thanks to my clients who let me into their hearts and minds, innermost dreams and desires, and tell me wonderful stories that entertain me and better still, always teach me something. I am so grateful to be a ghostwriter.

I’ve been a ghost for almost fifteen years and in that time I’ve ghostwritten more than forty non-fiction books and memoirs – some of them short, some long, some for women, some for men, some for people in their 80s, some for folks as young as 25. My clients are from all over the US; from widely disparate occupations; from many ethnicities and cultures. I’m a middle-aged white American woman from Seattle, but because when you ghostwrite you move into someone else’s head, my heart and mind have grown and I am no longer just what I appear to be on the outside. I have walked that proverbial mile in my clients’ moccasins, and I have been stretched to fit their shoes.

I have heard all sorts of stories and vicariously lived all sorts of adventures that I could never have had in “real life.” As a ghostwriter, I have many “real lives.” How wonderful is that?

I’ve ghostwritten business books on how to succeed, how to be a great leader, how to motivate employees, how to start a business from scratch, and learned from the adventures my clients went through while learning all these “hows.” I ghostwrote a financial book about how to plan for retirement, and another about how to invest responsibly. My own financial health has improved because of it. I’ve ghostwritten books with medical themes, some inspirational that showed how my clients beat cancer, recovered from a brain injury, or learned how to live with blindness. I ghostwrote a book about diarrhea and constipation and other intestinal challenges and how to live with them. (One of the most fun books I ever wrote – yes, really.) I even ghostwrote about male enhancement products and why not to use them. I am thankful that I did not have to suffer these conditions in order to understand them, and if I am confronted with these challenges in the future, I already know some techniques to help me heal.

I’ve ghostwritten a spiritual book on deepening your faith, a book on shamanism, another on dream interpretation, another on psychic hunches, another on astrological projections. Has my mind been stretched? You bet.

 I’ve ghostwritten books on relationships of all sorts – like how to get your teenager to talk to you; the triumph and pain of coming out of the closet; how to love without judgment; the ingredients of a happy marriage; and stories from an Alzheimer’s care facility that gave me strength and comfort when my own mother developed that dread disease.

Some of my favorites have been the books I ghostwrote about animals, including one about psychic horses and dogs, written for an animal communicator. This led me to look at my own dog differently, and the result was Dog Park Diary, a book that I “ghostwrote” for my dog, Goody Beagle.

And oh, the memoirs I have helped birth into the world! Inspirational, funny, thought-provoking. One of my favorites centered around how to make killer raspberry jam – you can write a memoir about anything.

I’ve ghostwritten a few memoirs about the horror of child sexual abuse – and the triumph of recovery and remembrance. These have inspired me to keep on talking and writing about this subject, to get these stories out there, because abuse flourishes in the dark. I have been a small part of pouring light on this problem, which makes me proud. It has increased my compassion – and my fury – and my desire to protect the vulnerable. In short, these books made me a better woman.

I’ve ghostwritten about living with the racism in American society, from the viewpoint of a Korean-American man, a Japanese-American woman, an African-American man, and a Latina woman. As a white person, how else but ghostwriting could have given me a better understanding of what America looks like from a minority perspective?

As an amateur historian as well as a ghostwriter, I’ve been privileged to ghostwrite books set in the past, and this led directly to teaching classes on how to see your own life as part of “big” history, which in turn led me to writing my book Making History: how to remember, record, interpret and share the events of your life.

I’ve ghostwritten war memoirs that tell the truth about its cost, from Vietnam vets and a Korean War vet, even a World War II vet. This is helpful for me because I am currently writing my own parents’ love story set during World War II when he was a soldier fighting in the South Pacific jungles, and she was a Woman Marine stationed in the War Dept in Philadelphia. It is based on their letters written between 1941 and 1945, which my brothers and I found in a box in their closet after they died.

Finally, I’ve ghostwritten some books that center around the theme of identity – adoption stories. All writing is an attempt to answer that age-old question “Who am I?”, but adoptees have a special interest in this topic. Ghostwriting these books has helped me immeasurably in writing my own memoir which is about my own identity story. Is it a coincidence that I attract clients with these kinds of stories? Probably not.

As a child I knew I wanted to be a writer when I grew up. Actually I didn’t wait until I grew up; I’ve been writing as long as I can remember. But it wasn’t until about fifteen years ago that I started writing for others – because my then 94-year-old grandmother asked me to write down some of her stories. Thank you, Grandma, for pointing me in this direction. I didn’t know that being a ghost could reward me with such an interesting life. Can I say it again? I love my job!

If you’re interested in learning how to be a ghost, I offer an online course teaching just that.
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
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  1. What an amazing resume, Kim. You seem to have gleaned the most from your life as a ghost. Thanks.

  2. Talk about living vicariously through the lives of others! I can see why you love your job, Kim. This is an incredible way to see the world through another's eyes.

  3. Kim--I quite often have folks contact me about ghosting (which I don't do). SO glad to find someone I feel confident referring them to!

  4. This is so perfect for the season, Kim—not just because of your gratitude, but for the cornucopia of creative ideas this post offers! If writers have a dearth of things to write about, they need to get out and live a little more, as you have done vicariously.

    I'm curious—do you have a way of managing your time so you can do you own writing, or do you squeeze in your own projects in between ghost projects?

    And are most of these self-published, or have they been picked up by publishers? I'm curious because it's one kind of gamble to spend years becoming a writer, investing only time and effort against the possibility of sales, and quite another to spend a huge chunk on a ghostwriter. (Spoken by someone who clearly does not run in circles of people who could afford such an extravagance, I suppose.)

  5. I've always been fascinated by ghost writers and now I've actually met one! Thanks for the wonderful glimpse into this side of writing. I really enjoyed reading your post.

    Thanks also for visiting The Write Game during the Miss You Blogfest. Loved finding your comment.

  6. Such a fabulous story, Kim. It's so interesting to hear from a ghostwriter on what it has meant to her to write the stories of others. Loved this post. I now go to share it on Facebook.

  7. Congratulations Kim on A) loving your job and B) having success at it ... that truly puts you in rarified heights!

    I'm a ghostwriter too ... not by choice, however ... it's just that nobody seems to be able to see me.

  8. I've referred Kim to people as well! I feel totally comfortable doing that, largely because of Kim's sensitivity and gentle hand. Add to that topnotch writing and editing skills, and I think you'll end up with a terrific book.

  9. More gratitude – thanks for the nice words, everyone, thanks Helen and Dani for sharing the post on Facebook, and thanks for the offers to refer others – referrals are where most of my clients come from.

    Re your questions Kathryn – It is always a challenge to write for others and still have time left for working on my own "stuff." Of course I always put my clients first – otherwise I’d have no business charging them money. So I won’t take too many jobs at once (ghostwriting or editing) so I still have some time left for me, not only for my writing but my own life away from the keyboard.

    Your 2nd question: I’d estimate 70-80% of my clients are interested in self-publishing. Yes, ghostwriting is expensive, but a book is one of the best ways to promote your business, your expertise, or your cause, so it’s an investment that can pay off big time if you market the book well to your target audience. Memoirs can also sell if marketed well, but if you want to just share your legacy with your family and descendants, I often counsel people to write short memoirs (10 to 20 thousand words or less) about only one aspect or timeframe of their lives. Ghostwriting articles or short ebooks is a lot less expensive. (When I was starting out as a ghost I ghostwrote three or four short “mother’s memoirs” about their pregnancy, labor and birth, and a few “pet memoirs” as well.)

  10. Thanks Kim. Your advice to those interested in self-pubbing memoirs is sound. Most of us don't realize we aren't half as interesting as we think! It's the story that's interesting. Since great stories are a challenge to write, your clients are lucky to have you to do it.


The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.


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