Susan Milstrey Wells

Everyone Has a Story to Tell. Let Me Help You Tell Yours.
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The Passion and Power of Ghostwriting


To the uninitiated, the term “ghostwriter” conjures up images of a spectral being, and in a sense, that’s what ghostwriters are. We are largely unseen, except to those who believe in us, or in this case, hire us. A ghostwriter writes for someone else, who is presumed to be the author. I have ghostwritten speeches and blog posts, among other projects, and it’s a form of writing I truly love. But often I find that difficult to explain to others.

Many of my fellow writers don’t enjoy writing in someone else’s voice, or they feel uncomfortable doing so. Some of my friends even find it a bit unethical. “Shouldn’t these people be writing their own speeches?” a dear friend has asked me more than once.

Yet, as ghostwriter Stacy Ennis points out, “ghostwriting is far from inauthentic.” She notes it requires “deep engagement by the named author” and “a high level of intellectual involvement from both parties.”  In other words, the author has the overall vision and often specific examples and ideas. My job is to put them on paper and add the pizzazz.  Here’s why I like doing that.

  • Ghostwriting is about people, and I find people endlessly fascinating. I honestly believe everyone has a story to tell and, as a ghostwriter, I get to help them tell it. I find myself at parties, in the checkout line at the grocery store, or at the doctor’s office saying to someone I’ve just met, “That’s a great story.” Ghostwriters help people who don’t have the time or the writing talent to get their story on paper so others can learn from it.
  • Ghostwriting is about passion and purpose. A person who needs a speech or blog post written has a passion for their subject and a purpose in sharing it. My purpose is to harness that passion by helping authors find their voice. My clients know what they want to say; they hire me to help them say it.
  • Ghostwriting is about power—the power of the written word to move people to action. Think of some of the most notable quotes in history: “Ask not what your country can do for you.” “Fourscore and seven years ago.” “A day that will live in infamy.” There is power in these words. There is a rhythm and a structure that helps you remember them, long after they have been written or spoken. The lyricism of speechwriting, in particular, sparks my creative side. In my own corner of the world, I’ve penned a few memorable phrases that my clients felt crystallized the importance of the moment.

Ultimately, ghostwriting challenges my skills and helps hone my craft. When I’m writing about someone, I might indicate that they spoke with a “smile in their voice.” When I’m writing for someone, I have to be able to convey that smile through the words I choose, the anecdotes I include, the tone I set.

In a world that increasingly calls on individuals and businesses to put themselves front and center—in tweets and selfies, in blog posts and TED talks—ghostwriters perform a valuable service by being the man or woman behind the curtain. Pay no attention to us, as the Wizard of Oz said: we are just busy helping our clients use language to entertain, educate, and enlighten. What’s not to love?

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