by Meg Dowell
Last week I finished up the first of several ghostwriting assignments I am working on for a client. I had never ghostwritten fiction before (it’s a very different experience ghostwriting articles), so I wanted to share a few key things I learned. If you are considering ghostwriting as a possible side gig, you might be wondering what it’s like to write something you don’t technically own. Here’s what I know from my personal experience.
It isn’t at all what I expected
I honestly thought I would hate ghostwriting. I decided I wanted to try it for a few reasons, one of them being that it was a new opportunity I wasn’t sure I would come across again. I thought working hard on a project that wouldn’t be published with my name on it would bother me. Deep down, that was something that worried me–not the fact that I wouldn’t get ‘credit,’ but the fact that I would end up being upset about it at the end.
As much as I loved writing the story (and will enjoy writing the rest I’m working on for the same client), I signed over the rights before I even started writing. So from the beginning, I knew I was going to have to hand over my baby when it was ready. So when it came time to do that, it didn’t feel like I was giving away my hard work. It actually felt surprisingly satisfying, knowing I had created something pretty awesome for someone else to use.
I need to stop being so afraid to experiment
I did a lot of things while writing this story that I don’t normally do. I tried to be a lot funnier than usual because I’m extremely self-conscious about my sense of humor in my own writing. It was also a children’s book, so I got to play with simple language and practice using A LOT more dialogue than I usually do (I tend to go a little heavy on internal dialogue–I’m working on balancing it out a little more in general).
I really feel like I allowed myself to be more creative, especially because it wasn’t a real-world setting. For some reason, knowing my name wouldn’t be attached to the finished product made that easier for me. I wasn’t worried that what I was writing would be judged as much. I worry about that a lot, even writing these posts.
Knowing that no one I knew would be reading it made me feel free, almost, and that allowed me to be a little bit more daring. I really need to do that more in my own writing, I’ve realized. I need to stop caring so much about what you all think and just go for it.
Outlining is a helpful starting point
I don’t usually outline my fiction before I start writing it or as I work. Ever. But for these assignments, I have to: it’s just part of the process, so the client can put together pictures as I’m working on the text. I thought that would drive me absolutely crazy, having to outline everything chapter by chapter before I started writing the actual story. But it didn’t. I actually really liked it.
What I liked was that I could follow that outline, add in small details here or there or even change a few things without feeling like the entire story was falling apart. This was a very short work of fiction (12K), so I can’t say it would work the same for a full-length novel. But it really helped when I was having an ‘I don’t feel like doing this’ day and still needed to do some work. I just had to pick a scene and start writing it, knowing where it was going to end up and lead into already.
I still have a lot to learn
Sometimes even I still slip into the false mindset that I am an ‘expert,’ and being an ‘expert’ means I must know all there is to know about writing. Far, far from it. I know a decent amount–I would not have put together this blog if I didn’t think I knew enough to help you get your creative endeavors in order.
But I barely consider myself a professional. I’m approaching my sixth month of freelancing, which is great, but not all that impressive looking at the big picture.
I ended up teaching myself a lot about structure and foreshadowing while writing this story. I also got to exercise a lot of the storytelling techniques I’ve suggested to you all over the past year or so. I have written a lot of fiction, but definitely don’t let myself ‘practice’ enough.
I have a long way to go before I’ll be ready to publish traditionally under my own name (something I want to try, since by the end of the year I’ll have self-published plenty on Amazon), and honestly, that’s fine with me. I enjoy learning and pushing myself to improve. I’m in no rush to move into a new stage. I’ll get there.
I’m glad I’m getting the chance to do this. Do I want to be a full-time ghostwriter? No. I really do like sharing my work with other people so they can enjoy it, too, and I can’t really do that when I don’t legally have the right to (technically). Plus, signing over the rights did kind of feel weird, even though I didn’t really mind. I would much rather own the rights to my fiction. But that’s my personal preference.
Meg Dowell is the managing editor at College Lifestyles magazine, a guest contributor with Lifehack and a guest blogger for Food & Nutrition Magazine. She is an eight-time NaNoWriMo winner and has also written for Teen Ink and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter.
The Insider Chipmunk Threat is the satirical story of a secret-squirrel agent named Nickel (codename: Nutmeg), who transfers from the Furry Bureaucrats of Investigation to the Dynamic Secret-Squirrels Intelligence Alliance to assist his former mentor, Agent Cinnamon.
Upon arrival, Agent Nutmeg quickly realizes that Agent Cinnamon struggles to combat the ever-growing Insider Chipmunk Threat: a counterintelligence initiative that looks to find government employees under the influence of the evil chipmunks. Together, the agents must battle corruption to thwart cunning mouse contractor, Marjorie, from her evil attempts to sabotage their investigation. Can they stop her in time?