Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Ghost Lessons

Photo by Dead Cat, via Flickr
I have lived many lives in addition to my own. I have heard the best stories, been influenced by the best wisdom, learned life-giving lessons, laughed at the best jokes, had the most fascinating experiences. This is because I have been a ghost for nearly twenty years, and have ghostwritten, rewritten, or developmentally edited over seventy books. (This doesn’t count the books I’ve written for me.)

I tell my clients their life stories and the lessons they’ve learned are vitally important, that what they feel, think, say, and do matters. To them, their families, their communities, to history itself. I am now taking my own advice by writing a new book, tentatively titled My Life As a Ghost, which shares what I’ve learned from all these lives that are not my own. I can’t share the actual stories because they don’t belong to me, but what I’ve learned does.

A ghost has to learn to think like someone else, even others radically different than her. Like actors, ghostwriters play many roles, just on the page instead of the stage. Unlike an actor, I’m not constrained by my gender, age, race, or culture. I am a middle-aged white American woman from the West Coast. But as a ghostwriter, I’ve been an African-American man from New York, a Japanese-American woman, an Iranian immigrant, a self-described redneck from Oklahoma, and oh yes, some middle-aged white American women. I’ve been many ages, from 20 to 90. I’ve been a doctor, an accountant, an entrepreneur, a cop, a scientist, a shaman, a gardener. Etcetera.

But here is the main thing I’ve learned over the years of pretending to be someone else. At heart we are all the same. We all want to love and be loved. We all want our lives to be meaningful. We all want to explore possibilities and practice our talents. And we are all so gloriously different in how we express our wants.

I love being a ghost.


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 12 books of her own, and ghostwritten more than 45 non-fiction books and memoirs. To learn more about her books or services, visit kimpearson.me.

11 comments :

  1. Kim, this is a fascinating post. What an incredible life you've led through the eyes and experiences of others! The closest I've come to that is as an editor, but that's not the same. Thank you so much for sharing. It's nice to see a ghost who isn't scary. :-)

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    1. Sometimes I wish I could be scary, but I'm not very good at moaning or keening.

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  2. It takes a special talent to write using other people's voices.

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  3. Great post, Kim. I have never written as a ghost writer, but my latest work with a local historian on his book, was close. I had to make sure that I kept the voice of his columns true to him, and not to me, as I compiled them all into a book. I have to use that same discipline when editing, too, as we never want to alter the author's unique voice.

    I love the last paragraph, too. It is a great message to everyone. Thanks!

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    1. You're right, Maryann. There are significant similarities between editing and ghostwriting.

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  4. CooOOOoool! *snicker* Couldn't resist. I do have a question, though. Despite fundamental similarities, everyone does have their own voice when it comes to writing. How do you prepare yourself to take on someone else's voice without trying to imprint your own over it?

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    1. I ask a lot of questions and really listen to the answers, and how the answers sound. I record our conversations and pay attention to word usage, slang, etc. When I write the book I try to treat my client's voice like I would one of my fictional characters. Mostly it is a lot like acting.

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  5. Not an easy job pretending to be another writer.

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  6. I'm not sure I could succeed in writing someone else's story, but I envy your experiences. My first editor was a ghostwriter who had penned the lives of some famous people. He was a true character. Unlike you, he had only been a ghost, and later when I was learning some of the things a fiction writer needed to know, I found out he didn't know POV. Fortunately, I learned it from other fiction writers. I still learned a lot from him. Great post.

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  7. Fascinating. I've never really thought about what goes into being a ghostwriter. Thank you for sharing.

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  8. You are more than a ghost. You are a surrogate mother for book babies.

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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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