Wednesday, December 1, 2010

I Am Not Mozart

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

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  1. Yes, Kim, yes!! Thank you for this insight. Writers, take note! I just finished an emergency edit for a client whose self-publishing deadline was upon her, yet was nowhere near having a publishable manuscript. She wanted me to "fix" it. In 48 hours. I was hesitant to take the job, but I figured if she was determined to do this, she'd at least have a much better product.

    She had no clue how to organize her material. Despite the carte blanche, after completely deconstructing/re-organizing the prose and then completing her arguments I wanted her approval before moving on--it was nothing like what she had sent me. She waited until the 47th hour to return it. The clock would not stop ticking. What the heck was she doing? "I liked what you did but I asked you to edit this," she said, when she finally called, "and you sent it back to me with typos. I've had to go through and fix them all."

    This was my first experience with someone who felt that Perfection flowed from heaven to the page without several drafts in between. So now I know what you mean!

  2. Kathryn, I need to buy you one of those NO tee-shirts. ;) Two weeks would have been a challenge on that project. Oy.


  3. That's comforting. I go through many edits before I have a finished product.

    Morgan Mandel

  4. Wow Kathryn... 2 days? That's just madness.

    Yeah, I kind of knew that pro-writers aren't Gods... kind of.

    I always need to be reminded of that, though. It's easy to be deceived by great writing -- it just feels like it was written in a matter of seconds.

  5. I've been caught in those "emergency" traps before too, Kathryn. Not fun. I console myself by telling myself I learned something; however I've noticed that new lessons just keep coming.

  6. I go through many, many edits on my own work - and on the work of others.

    Kim, I'd love to hear how you write in many voices - or how you capture the voice of the person you're ghostwriting for.

    Straight From Hel

  7. Excellent points, Kim, and I think we all learned something from Katheryn's comment. I almost got sucked into a similar experience, but luckily I had Dani's "no" t-shirt. LOL

    I just read on another blog that an editor from a small press said that any freelance editor that charges more than a dollar and a half a page is ripping off the client. Obviously, she doesn't know the kinds of manuscripts we are given and supposed to make them shine. I have yet to get a ms from a beginning writer that is ready for the simply copy edit that I could do for $1.50 a page. Content editing takes a lot more time, expertise, and effort.


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.