Client-ghostwriter collaboration is like courtship. It always starts off with uncertainty, then subsides when you slide into that rhythm of collaboration.
In listening to The Moth Podcast, I came across this quote:
“Being Uncertain Means You’re Alive”.
Because my fingers are super-glued to Google, I googled “uncertainty in a writing career” because I felt a blog post cooking. Surprise: I found a blog post from Just Write Dammit addressing this topic. More on that in just a moment. I know…there’s nothing like a dash of suspense to liven up a post about uncertainty–which, coincidentally, is often part of a writer’s job description, especially if you write fiction.
Politically the world is in a state of uncertainty, and if you are a writer, a ghostwriter or a client seeking to tell your story, you have just entered into The Uncertain Zone, despite possibly having read books such as Embracing Uncertainty.
I am not talking about believing in your story when would-be well-meaning (and otherwise) critics advise you against your dream. I’m talking about the inevitable uncertainty that writers feel and that sometimes sneaks into a ghostwriting relationship.
For the ghostwriter, the uncertainty usually comes in the form of the Inner Critic’s voice saying things like…
- “Are you sure you’re up to taking on this project? Why would they pick you? You’re not a six-figure writer.”
- “Are you sure you’re not just getting this client’s hopes and dreams up that you can deliver?”
- “You’re not a hot writer. Nobody knows who you are. That’s why you’re a ghostwriter. You don’t have any big connections. You don’t know Stephen King’s agent or Callie Khouri. You don’t go to the big cocktail parties. You hide out behind your computer.”
- “Why aren’t you done with this draft yet?”
- “That doesn’t sound like the client’s voice. This is pathetic.”
On and on and on.
For the client, they likely have announced their intentions to write a book and have their supporters and critics. Their Inner Critic is probably chattering on in what Buddha called the monkey-mind fashion, saying things such as…
- “Are you sure this person is legitimate?”
- “What if you pay your money and the writer completely ignores your instructions and desires?”
- “There’s too much or not enough _____________ in it.” (Whatever ____________ is for the client, be it sex, family secrets, violence, technical info, etc.)
- “Why is the draft taking more time than I thought it would?”
- “Does he/she really think I have a book/screenplay (or bestseller)?”
The writers may not express any of these things to the clients, because we never let ’em see us sweat. The client, however, might express her fears and desires to the writer.
Here’s a little secret: Everything both of you are thinking is completely normal. It does not mean that the project is doomed or you should take your anxieties or concerns as ill omens.
From personal experience, I know that doubts on the client’s side and the writer’s side subside when you get into that rhythm of collaboration. It’s a courtship–you are both concerned with what you have to offer the other person, what they think of you, and whether there will be a happily ever after–whatever that means for you.
Just Write Damnit offers this advice [edit: website taken offline]:
I spent most of my idle thoughts on where the hell I was going to be in the next six months.
I realized this was ruining my college experience. I spent so much time worrying about the uncertainty of the future that I wasn’t creating the best possible present for myself. All I could control was what I could do now to give myself the best opportunity for success later…
” The only thing we have to fear, is fear itself” -FDR
Have you ever given a thought to what this quote really means?
To me it means that we should fear being fearful because it is the fear of uncertainty that will paralyze us to inaction or irrational action.
Those inner-critic thoughts you as the writer and/or you as the client have? Just Write Damnit offers the following reality-check questions to ask your critic:
– What is the worst case scenario if this actually happens?
– What is this fear holding you back from?
– What are the choices that would lead to the fear coming true?
– What choices can you make TODAY to start your plan to make sure it doesn’t come true?
– How are you going to feel when you conquer this fear?
Do me a favor. Today I want you to set aside 30 minutes or so and answer these 5 questions as deep as you can.
Both ghostwriter and client can do this exercise. It may be the most important preparation you’ll make as you embark on this adventure.
Writing a book is a journey. While the inevitable goal is to get the ring, there’s something freeing about allowing yourselves to get to know the project on a deeper level. And let it surprise you–pleasantly. The good part of embracing uncertainty is that you won’t be bored. And neither will your intended audience.
An interesting comment from Just Write Dammit: “I realized this was ruining my college experience. I spent so much time worrying about the uncertainty of the future that I wasn’t creating the best possible present for myself. ”
My eldest, Chantalyne, spent much of Grade 5 and Grade 6 sweating over where to move on to the arts high school for Grade 7 and leave her friends behind, or to stick with her friends through Grade 8, and then switch to the arts high school in Grade 9.
As soon as she made the decision to move on for Grade 7, she was able to actually enjoy the rest of Grade 6 with her friends.
A major decision for certain at that age–and at any age, to leave the familiar and try something new. However, Chantalyne sounds wise beyond her years. Maybe her peers can take a lesson from her?? Oh, and she must have great parents.
I recall my first high paying, consistent client begging me to work with him lol….I so feared criticism, and failing, and uncertainty, that he needed to pull me in from the ledge 😉
When I was watching Shakespearean scholar Stephen Greenblatt on “Charlie Rose,” I looked up an excerpt of his essay on French classical essayist Michel de Montaigne and the parallels with Shakespeare: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/10877821/Stephen-Greenblatt-on-Shakespeares-debt-to-Montaigne.html. The summary given by The Telegraph (UK) says: “One wrote essays to be read in private, the younger wrote plays for the public; both turned uncertainty into art.”
Interesting that a month after this blog post, the Telegraph and Mr. Greenblatt should make such a major point on theme of uncertainty and art, and transforming uncertainty.