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From the works of Dr. Dre to Dean Koontz, ghostwriters are everywhere—even in the places that you wouldn’t expect. Rappers, billionaires, scientists, and popular authors all occasionally utilize the services of the humble ghostwriter.
A ghostwriter is, by definition, unknown. And that can lend an air of mystery to an otherwise common profession.
It’s not possible to know how many professional writers are also ghostwriters. But it’s likely that the majority of writers have worked as a ghostwriter at some point in their lives. Ghostwriters are used far more than most people think.
Thanks to a rich history of exposes and tell-alls, the general public has the impression of a “ghostwriter” as a somewhat skulking figure—fastidiously taking notes while putting together a cobbled pastiche of some privileged personality’s life. And while that’s certainly a popular niche, it’s far from the day-to-day realities of those within the discipline.
Ghostwriters write articles for Forbes and Medium, run snarky Twitter accounts, and even develop the hooks to the occasional phat beat. In fact, there may be no industry as inundated by ghostwriters as the rap and music industry. Ghostwriters write memoirs, autobiographies, and the occasional journalistic piece. Ghostwriters write anything and everything that someone else doesn’t want to write or have time to write.
A politician doesn’t write his own speeches. An entrepreneur doesn’t write his own seminars. And a mega-corporation certainly isn’t writing its own social media. They haven’t attained that level of sentience just yet.
But would it surprise you to know that even popular authors use ghostwriters? Ghostwriters aren’t just used by those who cannot write, they are used by those who have better things to do than write.
In the case of popular authors, ghostwriters are frequently used to flesh out the incredible, fast-paced outlines that they are able to produce on-the-fly. This is how authors such as Tom Clancy can churn out hardback after hardback year after year. The “writer” is still in control of the plot, characters, and feel of their story. The “ghostwriter” is the one who puts it all together.
For most people, a ghostwriter is simply the person who is able to articulate their thoughts and ideas—the person who is able to best express their concepts in a way that can be digested by others.
Most people aren’t going to build their own house brick-by-brick, even if they want to choose the flooring and the paint. And there’s no reason for most people to write their own books, articles, or social media, even if they have something unique and interesting that they want to say. That’s a job for the professionals.
You’ve likely run into a coworker who just doesn’t come across well through email. You open his newest missive, read the first sentence, and your blood is already beginning to boil—even though your coworker certainly never meant to illicit anything close to this type of reaction.
Equally likely, you probably have intelligent, motivated, driven family members, friends, and acquaintances who cannot write a text message to save their lives.
Some people are natural orators. Barack Obama could speak to any assembly extemporaneously, yet he still used ghostwriters when he needed to draft text. The same skill set that makes an individual interesting and worthy of listening to isn’t necessarily the same skill set that makes them a good writer.
And in the case of notable entrepreneurs, scientists, and critical thinkers—well, they just don’t have the time.
When it comes to autobiographies and the like, ghostwritten books are often panned as being “inauthentic.” Yet, you’d actually be hard-pressed to find an autobiography that wasn’t ghostwritten. In ghostwriting, a great deal of time is spent making the writing as authentic as it can be. In many ways, it’s more authentic than it would otherwise have been.
Consider: Your mother wants to know how you’re doing. She texts you:
That is not an accurate depiction of your mother!
That’s just how your mother writes. But the goal of a ghostwriter is to ensure that your mother is able to adequately express her thoughts in the way that is truest to her. So, “how u?” becomes “How’re you and the kids? Love you lots!” and all those personal flourishes that your mother would put in, if she didn’t struggle so with her new Samsung Galaxy S10.
Ghostwriting is an ancient profession. And in many ways, it’s a mundane and common one. It’s more popular than most people realize, and some of the most prolific authors of today are writing under other people’s names. Some of your favorite authors, songwriters, and personalities are likely using ghostwriters.
And that’s a good thing.
Everyone deserves the chance to have their stories and ideas heard, even if they aren’t a writer at heart. Good ghostwriters are able to chronicle the intricate and singular beauty of worlds apart from themselves—and they’re able to do so in a way that does true service to those that they write for.