13 traits of a great ghostwriter

Ghostwriter's-keyboardOctober is the month of goblins, ghouls, and my favorite phantom—the “ghost” writer. While skeptics dismiss them as skeletons in the closet, ghostwriters are in fact friendly spirits who bridge the yawning chasm between people with great ideas and the arcane craft of writing.

If you’re contemplating a pact with one of these ghostly scribes, the best way to avoid getting spooked is to be mindful of these 13 observable phenomena, which separate merely grisly phantoms from the ranks of the supernatural.

  1. Discretion—Responsible ghosts respect the privacy of their clients before, during, and into the afterlife of your project. While they may advertise ghostwriting services, they won’t reveal Secrets Men Were Not Meant to Know unless they have prior permission to do so. Your best hope is to seek referrals from those who’ve had prior encounters.
  2. Versatility—Your ghost should possess the ability to write in your voice, adapting his or her style to match your own. A skilled ghost will eventually develop a paranormal ability to channel your style—to the point that you may wonder which of you actually wrote a particular passage. (Whether this qualifies as ESP remains open to debate.) Wise apparitions recognize that a key part of this process is a willingness to respond to constructive criticism without losing one’s head. If the two of you disagree, it’s okay for the ghost to make a case for her way, but ultimately you always have the right to say “no, never in life would I say such a horrid thing!”
  3. Humility—Ghosts work from the shadows, leaving their clients to bask in the bright light of day. If the ghost’s name appears in public at all, it’s in smaller type below the client’s name. This is the nature of the business, so anonymity shouldn’t give your writer chills.
  4. Initiative—You don’t need to be haunted by the responsibility of keeping your project alive. Look for a self-starting specter who will keep it moving relentlessly forward until it meets its ultimate fate.
  5. Follow-through—Many clients who use ghostwriters are “idea people” who work best with partners who excel at execution. Your ghost should have a proven ability to meet dead-lines.
  6. Curiosity—A ghost who takes an interest in the mortal world will be more open to the ideas and perspectives of others, making it easier for them to see things through your eyes (figuratively, that is). It’s a good sign if your ghost asks a lot of insightful questions, such as: “What types of beings do you wish to make contact with?”, “Did you always want to be a vampire?” or “Is this haunted room actually stretching?”
  7. Interviewing skill—Professional ghosts have a knack for putting you at ease while they unearth details of interest to your readers that might not have occurred to you otherwise. Of course this doesn’t mean you have to reveal Secrets Men Were Not Meant to Know—if something comes up that could threaten the world as we know it, inform your ghost that it’s off the record (see item #1).
  8. Category experience—If your publication requires specialized or technical knowledge, it’s helpful to have a ghost who’s already somewhat familiar with your specialty—or at least a Jack-O’-Lantern of all trades who’s dabbled in your field. For example, if you want to write a book on the use of lightning to animate artificial humans crafted from the bodies of the dead, the process will take much less time if your writer already has a basic understanding of anatomy, meteorological phenomena, and common laboratory equipment.
  9. Organizational skill—Assembling thoughts and ideas in a compelling way is a useful skill for any writer, but it’s especially important for ghosts. It can be a frightfully complicated task to reassemble the many items of lore from the various notes, interviews, and other sources your writer will spend hours poring over in his lair or local coffeehouse.
  10. Judgement—Ghost writing requires a good sense for what will lure your readers and what should be left unsaid.
  11. Respect—Working with a ghost requires you to entrust someone else with your voice and reputation. That’s a grave responsibility that can easily leave you feeling vulnerable. If the thought of revealing your personal thoughts to a particular writer leaves you with a sense of lingering dread, it’s probably a good idea to try a different ghost. (Hint: Pay close attention to the background music.)
  12. Self-awareness—Truly objective apparitions must recognize the difference between their own ideas and opinions and those of their clients. When the two conflict they must be willing to take the client’s path, even if it seems a bit otherworldly.
  13. Enthusiasm—Don’t settle for a hazy revenant who just goes through the motions. Your project should excite and inspire your ghost, encouraging him or her to manifest the true spirit of your ideas.
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