A Ghost Writer’s Most Important Lessons

My CEO after reading my very first submission walked down to my Boss’s seat. He wanted to know who’d drafted this piece. My Boss pointed towards my desk while I cowered below. Fidgeting through my submissions I wanted to locate the write up. Wrath was inevitable. He would never walk up to my Boss’s cubicle otherwise. My mind reeled. But I’d used the right words I thought. The right synonyms. The theme was set right. The audience was kept in mind. Data cited was accurate. The flow was unquestionable. What could it possibly be?

I stood up, gulped, looked up – in the exact sequence. My palms were sweaty and I brushed them across my jeans. The CEO extended the printed write up in my direction. I collected them. I was seeing him from this close for the very first time. It was my first job. My first submission. My hands shivered and I prayed that he didn’t get to see them.

I was the youngest in the team. The newest. The only one who’d written something for him apart from my Boss, who was a veteran with words. Was I DOA?

“I loved the article” he said to a blanked out me, “I love the buildup, I love the flow…”, and just when I was about to breathe a sigh of relief, he said, “but it’s not me, it doesn’t sound like me!”

He would have noticed me turning white, for he smiled and asked, “What’s your name kid?”

“Elizabeth” I managed to say with a smile.

He grinned back. “Elizabeth, you are good as a writer, and I respect you for what you’ve done here. But remember, you’d be a successful ghost writer only when you accept yourself as an artist and not the author of the piece you’re writing.”

I didn’t comprehend.

“The article reeks of a 25 year old leader, impatient to leave his mark in the world”, he continued explaining, “and not of a 50 year old man, who’s the CEO of a 9000 Cr Company. This is you, and not me”

“You are an artist kid, understand that you have to get into my shoes, think like me, talk like me, claim my authority and put that into your work. The communication will not sound preachy, or dreamy, or aggressive, rather would sound typical to an established leader’s call for action.”

He smiled again, gently patted me on my back and walked away.

I stood there at my desk for a long time staring the document that had took me days to prepare! It was my first assignment and I had made sure that I had researched well on the subject, downloaded the right PDFs and used the right big, impactful words. There was no way this could have gone wrong!

Or so I had thought.

In a hurry to prove myself, I had made the biggest mistake of forgetting the first rule of ghost writing – I had failed to grasp my client’s way of giving away a message! I had forgotten that it wasn’t me who was authoring it, rather him, and hence I had to decipher his sense of dialogue delivery, his pace, his words, his style!

And secondly, I had forgotten to put on the artist’s hat! This wasn’t about me and neither was I delivering the message.

Both these lessons have stuck with me for all my subsequent entries. Being a ghost writer is such a humbling experience. You get to interact with leaders who’re at the top of their game, you get to walk their shoes and get to talk like them. You’re heard and published, and you learn lessons and insights of a lifetime. But end of the day, you are an artist who aids them with the right words, and goes back home smiling, knowing that your work plays a part in the great scheme of things!

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