My Life as a Ghost

typistLately, I’m doing a lot of ghost writing for people who want to be known for their carefully reasoned opinions and pithy commentary. It’s the nature of the beast that I can’t talk about who these people are or what I’ve written for them. Op-Eds, mostly, because I have a lot of political clients these days. Letters to the editor, sometimes. Heartwarming essays expressing sentiment the “author” may or may not feel, but that needs to be spelled-out.

I enjoy ghosting. The people I’m working for are generally better-known than I am, and the publications involved are thrilled to get their submissions. I’ve been a writer for a long time, and thrilled is not anything anyone has ever been to see my work coming in over the transom. But when I ghost for, say, a member of Congress, the level of quality is often-as-not set by my own standards of professionalism, since the “author” cares mostly about getting published and the publisher cares mostly about having the “author” on his pages. There is an inverse correlation between how high the bar is and how famous the “author” is. There’s also something to be said for having to take no responsibility for the outcome of the work. If I make someone mad, they don’t get mad at me. They don’t even know I exist.

Still, I can’t bring myself to go full-on hack, doing the minimal amount of work and cashing the check. This kind of writing is just too much fun to not take seriously.

The other day I had an interesting experience. Something I wrote made a little news. It got people talking, and next thing you know I’m watching cable television and there’s my client, on the air live expanding on his/her great insights, which were my insights with his/her name attached.

That’s the best outcome for the client: looking smart without putting in actual work. And in the case of this particular client, he/she is smart and could have written something equally insightful, but writing is not the highest and best use of his/her time.

I maybe would have liked to be on cable TV myself, but that’s the breaks.