Friday, June 7, 2013

What Does It Take to Become a Ghostwriter/Collaborator? (Part 1 of 3)

I'm amazed at the people who think they can become ghostwriters. "How hard can it be?" one writer asked. "You just take their words and write them."

"If that's all it was," I said, "they'd hire a transcriptionist."

What does it take to write well for other people? Although I've implied this in previous posts, I have two significant things to point out.

1. Good ghostwriting requires a person who can listen—I mean truly listen. It's more than merely absorbing the words, but sensing what isn't said as well as noticing the inflection of the voice, gestures, and attitudes. Someone said, "It's listening with the third ear."

For example, years ago I wrote the story of Velma Barfield, a woman convicted of murdering one man, and she later confessed to killing three others. Every Friday for seven weeks, I visited her while she was on death row. The fifth week, I asked about the death of her second husband.

"He had been a diabetic for years," Velma said. "He died from complications of the disease."

As I listened, something didn't ring true, but I couldn't figure out what it was. I asked her a second time and she said almost the same thing.

After I returned home, I listened to that portion of the tape four or five times.

Then I knew: Velma had murdered him. The only way I know to explain that moment was that God gave me the insight I needed. Not only did I realize that she had killed him, I also knew why she denied it.

Velma had killed the other three by pouring rat poison (which contained arsenic) into their iced tea. She had been trained as a practical nurse. For her second husband, she put the poison into his medicine. Because of her medical training, Velma was too ashamed to admit it.

The following week I asked Velma again about her second husband and she still denied the murder.

"No, you killed him," I said, "and I know the reason you don't talk about it."

Before I finished my explanation, tears flowed down her cheeks. "It is the only sin I haven't confessed." After more crying, she said, "I've been praying that somehow God would help me tell someone about killing him."

Velma hugged me and smiled before she said, "Now I'm ready to die."

2. Good collaboration also requires a person who can listen uncritically. As a ghostwriter, I don't always agree with the author but that doesn't matter: It's the author's book, not mine. It’s not my job to correct them; I am responsible to understand their meaning.

If I want to write for others,
I need to listen intuitively and uncritically.

1 comment:

  1. This is an amazing story. Powerful. Whew... I can't find the words.

    When I was 15 years old, I knew someone like the woman you met on death row. She told me her story, in gory detail. She terrified me. I pretended to be her friend, because I was so afraid of her.

    As I read this post just now, I remembered. Today I am in my sixties, so this happened a long time ago. Ethel is long gone from my life. But it still gives me chills to remember.

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