Thursday, 25 January 2018

Write Me Up

Oh boy. A new year, a new adventure.

I've just been commissioned to undertake my first full-on ghostwriting gig. Farewell to web content and technical reports, hello memoir.

I start tomorrow, and I must admit I'm bricking it slightly. Due to the nature of ghostwriting, I can't tell you anything about my client or the book itself, but I can tell you all about the process. I've already written about writing a novel before, so let's see how non-fiction compares.

In some respects, it's going to be a lot like writing historical fiction, only it's historical fact. 

My approach is the same as it would be with HF, where I utterly immerse myself in the subject for the first couple of weeks. Only, instead of turning to Wiki, YouTube and academia, I'm turning to a comfortable café and my trusty voice recorder. Thankfully, my subject has led a fascinating life and can talk about it with emotion and eloquence. By the end of our first meeting, I already had my starting point figured out. I have a strong sense of where and how we should begin things, and the path we'll travel.

But that's where the similarity with fiction ends, and where my cold sweats begin.

We're aiming for quite a short book. Something to take on tour at events and speeches. Yet, even a short work can feel long if you don't have the material at your fingertips. 

With fiction, I swim in a pool of research for the first couple of weeks to a month, then I sit down and begin writing, looking up anything I need to know as I go.

You can't do that with a biography, because all of the details are in the other person's head, not on Wikipedia. You can't break your stride for a moment to quickly look something up, you need to e-mail, call or WhatsApp and wait for the reply. So, a lot more rests on the initial interviews and making sure they're detailed enough. Not just recording the things my client wants to talk about, but asking questions they might not have thought of themselves, about colours, smells, feelings, descriptions - those little hidden pebbles that get lost beneath the stream of consciousness. The things that bring a place or an encounter to life on paper.

Physically writing the words doesn't bother me, it's having enough to write about, even with someone who has lived an incredible life. Getting to know that person well enough to write as them, through their eyes, in their voice. 

We've only met twice.

We begin tomorrow morning at 10 a.m., café to be decided.

I guess I'll journal this under the label Ghostwriting.

Wish me luck, and if you've ghostwritten for someone in the past, I'd appreciate any pointers in the comments below.

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