Ghostly Writing—Why Do It?

claudette young

By Claudette Young

For many years I was a ghost. Yes, I was. I slipped in and out of the writing scene, leaving behind few traces of myself. And now, when others learn of this potentially lurid/sordid past, questions get fired my way.

It’s time to reveal how some ghosts begin and end writing careers by describing my own sortie into this profession.

A profession it is. Some ghost writers never write under their own name. They prefer anonymity. Hiding in the darkness, the mouse can be a lion—or a dragon. Fear of personal exposure keeps them tethered to contracts requiring them to never reveal what they’ve written or for whom.

Mine isn’t that tale, however. I wrote under my own name for many years. Academic, corporate project/press work, journalistic work, advertising, children’s literature, articles for writers, etc. I never kept to one form or interest. Then, one day, another writer came to me and asked a favor.

The writer needed help. She was overloaded with writing obligations and not enough time to fulfill them. She asked if I could write a coursework handbook for her if she gave me her notes. There was a time crunch involved, but she’d pay me for the haste.

Since she was one of my favorite people, I agreed. I didn’t have anything in contractual works right then and had the time. That handbook became my first ghost job. I still look back on it fondly. Other than the money, the best payment was when she told me she couldn’t tell my writing from her own. Still makes me smile.

It wasn’t long until the next job appeared—another writer. A mutual acquaintance of mine and the one I’d just worked for. Satisfaction comes in many guises and so do jobs. Writing in a new style, new syntax, was both a challenge and a pleasure. And there was the pitfall for me.

I’d worked as an ARC reviewer for a couple of specialized publishers for about a year when I was approached by one of them to take on another kind of project. I accepted that commission and went on to do others for them over the next  year or two before moving on to other types of writing.

I’d learned something critical about myself by that time. When I tried to go back to my own style, I couldn’t. It was no  longer there. It had been buried or obliterated by the overlays of so many other people’s styles through the years.

It’s cool to have my writing style compared to Andre Norton or Douglas Adams. Or even to have my poetry sound like Whitman. Unfortunately, the compliment falls far short after a while. I still don’t sound like me. I’ve lost a part of myself in other people’s voices.

When I recognized what had happened, I ceased all contracted ghosting. It was time to be myself and come out into the light again.

It’s taken me several years, much angst, many trials and false starts to get back a semblance of my true writing style. I still find myself slipping back into Douglas Adams occasionally. (His Universe is pervasive sometimes.)

As for perks of ghosting, there are some. But hassles arise too. Perks mean decent checks in the mail for work done. It means the possibility of never going without work, especially if you can hook up with a decent publisher.

The cons, though, can be many. Fighting deadlines, last-minute turn-around edits that should take days but are needed in hours, cranky editors, and lost sleep over insignificant details. All this and more comes with the territory. And never forget, your name does not appear as a by-line or on a cover.

Like I said, it’s taken years to come back to myself. I still do small projects, work on large ones, like novels and screenplays. I still publish, though I don’t market myself. I just don’t feel the need.

But, rebuilding the boldness and self-assuredness that were my hallmarks at the very beginning of my writing experience is more difficult than finding my true voice. That takes more work than anything else. 

I never wrote for fame or fortune. I wrote for me and any pleasure others gained from my words. I forgot how to do that along the way. Now, I must rediscover that path.

It’s my hope that any who choose to allow their words to paint pictures for others to explore can find and adhere to the writing path that best suits their needs. And, of course, enjoy each moment of their journey.

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