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.