Once upon a time, early on in my academic and writing career, I was invited to ghostwrite for a best-selling author (who shall remain anonymous). I recall my initial shock at the request, because in my naïveté I had no idea that there was any such thing as a ghostwriter. That I should write and someone else would put his or her name on what was written struck me as wrong on its face. At the time, I understood little about the “biz,” though years later I admit that I don’t view ghostwriting much differently.
I didn’t decline the opportunity immediately, as I wanted to consider carefully all the ramifications. I could see definite advantages. For the ghostwriter, there would be opportunity to become known in publishing circles, to hone one’s craft, and to develop a rapport with some well-known personalities. For the named writer, there would be the opportunity to be prolific without having to do all of the laborious footwork. In the competitive marketplace of ideas, being prolific is an inestimable advantage.
But in my estimation, the disadvantages seemed to far outweigh the advantages – for everyone involved, but especially for the named writer. The problem of integrity seems unavoidable. On the one hand, the named writer is simply receiving help, not unlike a politician receiving help from speechwriters. But, on the other hand, the problem remains: the writing simply isn’t the named writer’s work. For the record, I have always been bothered by the reality that politicians don’t generally write their own speeches. But why do they have others write their words for them? For the same reason some writers use ghostwriters: time. We can only know so much, say so much, and distribute so much. In general, the more people we involve, the more effective the dissemination of the message.
Without realizing all of the implications at the time, I declined my one opportunity to be a super duper ghostwriter. To this day, I am glad I did. I certainly don’t wish to impugn the hard work of ghostwriters, speechwriters, or the integrity of the writers and politicians who utilize them, but I submit that it is always better do our own work, regardless of how our individual limitations may limit the message or the distribution of that message.