I Am Not a Ghostwriter

Some people think I’m a ghost.


Okay, actually they think I’m a ghostwriter, but I disagree.

My job description: I help people to write memoirs and family history books.

Ghostwriter: one who writes for and gives credit of authorship to another.

This is what my writer's hat looks like. (photo courtesy of Betty Schopmeyer)

This is what my writer's hat looks like. (photo courtesy of Betty Schopmeyer)

Yes, it’s true my clients are getting the credit as authors instead of me. But that’s because they ARE the authors – even if they've never picked up a pen or looked twice at a laptop.

I do consider myself a writer. However, when I help someone else to write a book I don’t wear my writer’s hat.

How can you “help someone to write” if you are not the writer? What do you mean they’ve never picked up a pen? Who’s doing the writing? How does it work?

First I put on my interviewer’s hat. I sit down with a storyteller and ask questions. I’m riding in the passenger seat while they drive down memory lane. Meanwhile a recorder is going and everything they say is captured in audio form.

Next I go back to my desk and listen to the audio recording and type up every single thing they said, word for word. This is called a transcript. It can be an informative document, but it isn’t really like reading a book. There are often great stories found in transcripts, but usually you have to weed through a lot of meandering chitchat, backtracking, side tracking, and whatnot. That’s why the next step is so important – editing.

After the interviews and transcription work I put on my editor’s hat to help turn a disordered transcript into an interesting and easy-to-read narrative. I might re-arrange stories, alter sentence structure, and occasionally open up the thesaurus to pick out a new word (especially if a storyteller uses the same word too often).

It is very important to me to maintain the author’s voice and intention. As I edit I ask myself –

  • How does he speak? Does this sound like him?
  • Can I hear her voice in these words?
  • Is this new sentence structure true to her voice?

The words in the finished book belong to the storyteller. In my roles as interviewer and editor I act as a midwife, helping to bring a book to life. I am honored to help bring these stories forth and proud of the authors I have worked with in the past. 

I am not a ghost or a ghostwriter. I am a Personal Historian.