Friday, August 9, 2013

Writer Poll: Is Ghostwriting Hazardous to the Health of Your Voice?

All ghostwriters are writers—whether they're writing in collaboration or on their own. So what happens when a ghost is too good at inhabiting the writing mind of another person or persona? Is it possible to get so immersed in another voice that you lose track of your own?

Annie Davies' recent Salon piece, “My Dirty Secret Writing Life,” says yes. In it, she expresses regret that she spent so many years ghostwriting a young-adult book series based on a popular TV show. Ultimately, she decided that “none of the ghostwriting gigs mattered very much, not in the long run.” And when she finally stopped writing for the series and turned to her own bylined projects, she found that she’d become disconnected from her own voice.

We polled our writers to see whether that resonated with them—had ghostwriting ever been hazardous to the health of their voice?

Davies' article really hit a nerved in our writer community. Most responses scolded her for her unacknowledged privilege, including some variation of “first-world problems.”

One of our ghosts, Sandra Rea, responded with “DUH…she lost herself. That’s what writers do.” She went on to pose some questions in a hypothetical conversation wtih Davies: “What does being a 'real' writer mean to you? What do you think you were doing all those years? If you were busy as a ghost—and paid well too—doesn't that legitimize you as an actual, flesh-and-blood writer?”

Some writers said that they found ghostwriting to be beneficial for their other projects. Holly Robinson said, “I enjoy the challenge of capturing a new voice on the page and have discovered that, although most of my clients are people whose lives are quite different from mine, many of our central conflicts and experiences share a common thread. Plus, ghostwriting has given me lots of good fodder for my fiction writing!” Alan Perlman felt similarly, saying, “As an academically trained linguist, I'm unusually objective about language, and as a student of stylistics, I like the challenge of replicating another person's voice. Praise from the client, audience reaction to a speech, and money—these serve my superficial ego needs.”

Other ghosts felt that, though they had at times felt conflicted about their own voice, at the end of the day, it all comes down to the paycheck. A writer who preferred to remain anonymous said, “Anything hazardous [to my voice] has been helped by the check I get that covers my rent and life.” Blogger and ghostwriter Claire Shefchik agreed: “When I'm ghostwriting and start worrying about ‘the health of my voice,’ these three little words usually help: I'm getting paid.”

The consensus from our writers is clear. Davies should be happy that she's been able to do what so many people can’t: make a living off of her writing, bylined or not.

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