Let’s start by referencing that quaint relic of an authority on definitions, Merriam-Webster:
“Simple Definition of GHOSTWRITE: to write (something, such as a book) for someone else using that person’s name.”
Simple. Elegant. Yet this definition only begins to scratch the surface of what the act of ghostwriting really means.
If a politician hires a ghostwriter to produce a speech, doesn’t that mean those stirring (or hateful) words might not belong to the mouth speaking them?
If a rapper uses a ghostwriter to generate lyrics, is it right for the artist to lay claim to the poetry?
If a CEO hires a ghostwriter to blog in his or her voice, could that erode the trust of employees in their leader and of the public?
This is a question every writer must grapple with: to what extent is it okay for me to write what someone else takes credit for?
Though he writes for Silicon Valley, Ian Griffin’s description of speechwriters (a specific kind of ghostwriter) as “hired gun, a mercenary wordsmith creating bullet points for The Man” certainly rings true in the political arena. We simply can’t accept just any assignment if it means loading a gun that could do serious damage. On the other hand a certain amount of flexibility is okay in my book. I don’t have to agree with 100% of what the speaker wants to say and, like writing lines for a character in a play, I’m comfortable writing passionately about a subject I don’t entirely agree with. Unlike writing fiction, however, the words must not violate my sense of morality. (No pro-puppy killing speeches, for example.)
It’s common for people to feel jaded about politics and assume that since politicians don’t really mean what they say it makes no difference whether they hire someone to pen their words. Art, on the other hand, is supposed to be an authentic exchange between artist and audience. When Meek Mill accused Drake of not writing his own lyrics for a verse he was credited for on a Mill track in 2015, it sparked a controversy over the definition of artistic integrity. Is it right to pay a ghostwriter for the right to put your name on his or her art? Well … that’s really between the artist and the writer. I think it’s best for the writer to be credited to some degree for an artistic contribution, and in Drake’s case the work of Quentin Miller was acknowledged with a co-writer credit. If the work is all about capturing the performing artist’s voice, however, who’s to say that act of service requires acknowledgement? Only the ghostwriter. The distinction between co-writer and nameless servant is for him or her alone to make.
Blogger and corporate writer Demian Farnworth says that just like in art (and in politics, to those who have managed not to get jaded), trust in content marketing is huge. Trust is arguably even more important in this arena because jobs are directly on the line. If corporate communication is to translate into sales and keep everyone in the job it must be authentic. The ghostwriter’s job is to capture the voice of the executive whose name is in the byline – its passion, energy, volume, urgency – and translate it into text so convincingly that no one will question its authenticity. And it will be authentic if a faithful representation of the leader with big ideas who simply doesn’t have the skill or the time to write.
There you have the reasons why you need a ghostwriter. If you are a leader with vision but feel you can’t commit the time to translating it to the written word, or you recognize your many gifts just don’t include writing, you need a ghostwriter.
I have the gift of lacking vision. No big ideas. I will not be leading an army or even organizing a round of Hacky Sack anytime soon.
It is a gift to lack some strengths because it makes room for others, and this is mine: I believe in the potential of the visions of others. Call it symbiotic (heck, call it voyeuristic if you’re feeling cheeky), but my potential lies in the stories others need to tell.
So tell me a story. I’m all ears (and typing fingers).