Compost: Is Ghostwriting Cheating?

You can hire a ghostwriter to help you put your ideas and stories into words that will excite, inspire, inform or delight your readers. Ghostwriters will do all the writing work for you, from organization and structure to color and characterization – basically from your head and out the ghostwriter’s fingers.

But wait – isn’t that cheating? Some people think so. This goes back to school days, when having someone else write your term paper was cheating. (It still is.) But that was because having someone else write for you meant you were not learning, which was then your primary job. It was also cheating to use a calculator while taking a math test, because you were supposed to be learning how to do mathematics, not punch buttons.

This is no longer true. You can use a calculator now without guilt. You can also hire a writer to help you put your ideas on paper. (Of course they must be your ideas – it’s still wrong to steal others’ ideas and pass them off as your own.)

Hiring a writer is a little like hiring an architect. Say you are finally able to build your dream house. You have lots of ideas for this house. You know how many bedrooms you want; you know you want it on a wooded lot where the deer feed in the mornings; you know your kitchen must have a central island and space for at least two people to cook; you know you want natural gas heat; and you even know that your jacuzzi bathtub must overlook a private patio with a great view of the mountains. You know you like blues and tans and that your taste runs to impressionist art like Monet and Morisot, and you hate the pop-art of Andy Warhol. Your style is elegant and cool instead of funky and casual, and you admire the work of I.M. Pei.

Wow, you know a lot, don’t you? But can you draw up the plans to build this house? Do you know which materials to buy and which carpenters to hire? Do you know how to wire the house, and how the plumbing works, and where to apply for all the permits? Probably not. Can you learn? Sure – if you’ve got a few spare years.

So instead you hire an architect or a construction firm, and you tell them everything you want and what matters to you, and they translate your ideas into a living reality. But it’s still your house. It reflects who you are, not who the architect is. When someone admires the beauty of your house, they are admiring you – your taste, your plans, your ideas.

It’s the same with your book. Your original ideas and stories belong to you, therefore so does your book, even though you may not have written it all by yourself. This is why the copyright of your book belongs to you, not your ghostwriter. And be sure to get it in writing!

Haiku Friday: Real

Here’s my haiku for today, on the topic of Real:

you’re a real writer
if you write every day
even if it’s crap

It’s Haiku Friday again. For the past twenty years or so, it has been my practice to write one haiku every day. Every Friday I share a haiku here, about whatever topic I happen to choose. I invite you to write a haiku on this topic too, and share it with me and the readers of this blog. Just write it in the Comments below. The only rules are: 1) your haiku must be about the named topic; 2) you must follow the 5-7-5 syllable format; 3) no obscenities or hate (I will delete those). That’s it.

Writing Tip: Know Your Reader

When I start ghostwriting, the first question I ask my client the author is always, “Who is your ideal reader? Who do you want to read this book?”

This is often a hard question for them to answer, especially if the client is a newbie author. They rarely think about it. Most of them will say something like, “My book will appeal to just about everyone,” and they will act puzzled that you are even asking this stupid question.

This is usually my first educating job. I explain to my client that no, not everyone will want to read their book, and that an exercise in defining their ideal readers is well worth their time.

It is true that no one can definitively know exactly who will be reading any book, but an author can know two things: 1) they can know who is most likely to read a book like theirs, and 2) they can know who they want to read the book.

Knowing who the target readers are is important to me as the ghostwriter because this will clue me as to how to tailor the writing to appeal to particular types of people, by varying my use of metaphors, slang, industry jargon, and so on. Writing for grandmothers is different than writing for teenagers. Writing for financially savvy people is different than writing for people who can’t figure out how to read their bank statement.

Knowing who the target readers are also helps me with research on aspects of the topic. For instance, when ghostwriting a gardening book, I joined a gardening group on Facebook and asked members of the group what they thought about a particular kind of composting. The answers I received gave me insights into what people who’d be interested in a book on gardening were thinking about.

You have to go after the readers if you want them to come after you.

Ghostwriting for a Dog: Herder Dogs

Goody Beagle here. Yesterday at the dog park I met an Aussie who seemed to think I was a sheep. That’s the problem with herder dogs – they think everything that moves is a sheep. I wouldn’t care except that herder dogs think it is their job to tell sheep where to move, how to move, how fast to move, and when to move. Then they get irritated if the sheep don’t do what they say.

The other problem with herder dogs is that they never believe that you are NOT a sheep, no matter what you try to tell them. You’d think they’d know because you don’t smell like a sheep, but herder dogs don’t use their noses as much as they should.

You can probably tell that I didn’t have that much fun at the dog park yesterday. Why can’t there be such a thing as Beagle Parks?

Haiku Friday: Adverbs

Here’s my haiku for today, on the topic of Adverbs:

attack those LYs
adverbs are the enemy
hiding what is real

It’s Haiku Friday again. For the past twenty years or so, it has been my practice to write one haiku every day. Every Friday I share a haiku here, about whatever topic I happen to choose. I invite you to write a haiku on this topic too, and share it with me and the readers of this blog. Just write it in the Comments below. The only rules are: 1) your haiku must be about the named topic; 2) you must follow the 5-7-5 syllable format; 3) no obscenities or hate (I will delete those). That’s it.

Sharing History: Memories of Margarine

One of my memoir-writing class participants had vivid memories of margarine from the 1940s. “Margarine was white and looked like a lump of lard,” she said. “It came with a yellow color capsule that you broke into it, to make it look like butter. It was one of my jobs to stir the yellow into the margarine. I hated this job because my older brother told me an elaborate and dirty story about that yellow capsule. He said that the margarine factories paid their workers to go to the bathroom in special jars, which they filled the capsules from. It saved money, he said, and it was their patriotic duty to go to the bathroom to make margarine capsules. I was only seven, and my brother was ten, so I actually believed this ridiculous story. I believed it even when my mother told me he was lying. (He got in trouble for telling it, too.) Every time I had to stir in the color I felt sick to my stomach, and I certainly never ate any margarine. Even today I prefer butter. There are some things worse than fat.”

What foods sickened you when you were a kid? Why? How do you feel about them today?

Compost: What’s in a Name?

I have a brand-new granddaughter, born just a few days ago. My daughter, her mother, named her June, after my mother. The stories behind names tell us so much. Here is the story behind little June’s name:

When my mother Lois June Winter, little June’s great-grandmother, was born in 1921, the name “Lois” was all the rage, mainly because a silent-screen actress named Lois Wilson was popular then.  In fact, in Lois’ tiny high school graduation class of 1939, three of the fifteen girls in that class were named Lois!

But the name June was different. No one else she knew had this name; it was her special name and she loved it. Her mother had wanted to give her June as a first name, but her dad thought the name “June Winter” sounded a little strange, so he talked her mom into going with June as a middle name.

Lois’ mother Mabel loved the name June because she was reading the book “The Trail of the Lonesome Pine” when she was pregnant. Mabel was only 17 at the time, and this book was a romantic tale of a mountain girl named June who fell in love with a “furriner”, or outsider. It had great appeal for a romantic teenage girl.

Times were tough when Lois was growing up during the Depression. Her parents were busy trying to make ends meet, and could not give Lois many “special things.” But she always felt that her middle name June was her mother’s special gift, just for her.

Many years later, when Lois herself was a mother of a little girl (me), she often gave me dolls for my birthday or Christmas. She told me how when she was a little girl she always wished she could have a pretty doll with pretty clothes, but there wasn’t enough money. So she was especially happy to give me the prettiest dolls with the prettiest clothes she could find.

And even more years later, when I too was a mother, one time Lois was having a tough year. So for Mother’s Day that year I bought her a doll to cheer her up, even though she was a grandmother and too old to play with dolls. It was the prettiest doll I could find, with very pretty clothes.

Oh, she was so happy! Her face lit up and she put that doll on her bedside table, where it sat for many years, all the rest of her life.  She named the doll – guess what?  Yep – June.

After Lois died, the doll June came back to me, and has sat on my bedside table for the last two years. And now she is going home – to my granddaughter June. I hope she will love her too. She is special.

Haiku Friday: Sad

Here’s my haiku for today, on the topic of Sad:

 

even though you’ll die

yes, even that – don’t be sad

gonna be all right

It’s Haiku Friday again.  For the past twenty years or so, it has been my practice to write one haiku every day. Every Friday I share a haiku here, about whatever topic I happen to choose.  I invite you to write a haiku on this topic too, and share it with me and the readers of this blog.  Just write it in the Comments below.  The only rules are:  1) your haiku must be about the named topic; 2) you must follow the 5-7-5 syllable format; 3) no obscenities or hate (I will delete those).  That’s it.

Writing Tip: What It Takes to Be a Ghost

There is no ghostwriter’s union that sets uniform standards for how ghostwriters do what they do. (Or if there is such a union, I don’t know about it.) But this is what I think you need to know in order to be a ghost:

First, be aware that writing for yourself is very different than ghostwriting. A ghost needs to write compelling prose that is close to another person’s voice, not their own. You need to put your ego in the background and write what is important to your client, in a way he or she might say it – only better. This skill involves more than writing ability. You must be able to ask penetrating questions that elicit sparkling stories and deep emotions. You must be able to listen compassionately to the answers, and then delve even deeper. You must be able to translate what you find in someone else’s head into written words that convey someone else’s truth. You must be fiercely dedicated to producing an excellent work of art, yet recognize that this work does not belong to you. A ghost is a different kind of writer. Not all good writers make good ghosts.

Ghostwriting for a Dog: Why I Eat Catfood

Goody Beagle here. It has been explained to me (too many times) that cat crunchies are not good for dogs. They might make me fat or give me gas. I don’t care too much about getting fat, and I don’t care at all about gas, but my human seems to think these things are important.

My human also thinks I eat cat crunchies because I am a “garbage hound” (her words, not mine) and will eat anything with a smell. But she is wrong – this is not the reason I eat The Cat’s crunchies.

My deep dark plan is to eat all The Cat’s food in hopes that she will decide to move out.

So far, no luck. But I keep hoping. And eating.