Other people’s words

Being critiqued is so much fun
Being critiqued is so much fun

Many years ago, I gave my then friend, Jane Teresa, a swag of articles I’d written. I felt an enormous sense of pride as I handed them over. After all, JT, was a published author, and she was interested in my work – a rare combination. Actually, truth to tell, I was almost wetting myself in anticipation of the bit of praise I knew would be coming my way.

Little did I know that I was about to experience something every writer should. And that experience was going to be excruciatingly painful, emotionally disturbing, and completely heartbreaking. I could have easily given up the pen (and the friendship – no, I lie about that) right then, and if it were not for JT’s encouraging words that accompanied the awful ripping as she dissected my work, I would never have written again.

Fortunately, I continued to write and, not only did

Excuse me, you wouldn't have a spare stake on you, would you?
Excuse me, you wouldn’t have a spare stake on you, would you?

Jane and I marry, but we also formed an extraordinary team for many adventures. I learned loads of lessons from those early critiques, but, more importantly, what was driven home like a stake through a vampire’s heart, was an indelible memory of pain and wounded pride that will endure forever. Isn’t that great?

From time to time, ghostwriting is not so much about finding new words, but resurrecting the old. For example, clients who present their tenderly crafted words for appraisal have the reasonable perception that the work may, at the most, just require a bit of a polish. And sometimes that’s all it does need. However, if the ghost is faced with a bit of a dog’s dinner, it would be as well for him to remember how those razor edges of rejection felt to oneself before ploughing ahead with a critique of another’s efforts.

Bit of a dogs' dinner
Bit of a dogs’ dinner

Not long ago, I had a lovely lady client. She was elderly, poised, almost stately, and the epitome of good manners. As we progressed, she happily accepted my total rewriting of her book with the same emailed response, ‘reads well’. After a dozen or so of these I began to wonder if she was actually reading what I’d sent. I mean, some of the changes I’d made were quite dramatic. And then, halfway through the book, I had an email from her with a piece of text I’d edited out pasted into the message. It was accompanied by large red font which said, ‘Michael, I really fucking like this. Please leave it in’.

Yes, I was as shocked as you no doubt are. But, after I’d laughed out loud, I had a think. Had I become careless, or thoughtless? Immersed in my writer’s zone, and on a roll, had I lost some sensitivity to my client’s precious words? I’ll probably never know, but as a sharp reminder, the message served its purpose.

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One Response

  1. Your question, “Immersed in my writer’s zone, and on a roll, had I lost some sensitivity to my client’s precious words?” hit home, Michael. A few clients ago, after reading a first draft and commenting to a friend how dreadful the writing was and how wonderful the client thought it was, my friend wisely advised me: “Go easy on him”.

    He explained why and I realized that yes, I really better go easy on him. So I did. I was affirming, congratulatory, sensitive and firm, while kind. Which is all well and good at this phase. As I worked through his book it zipped along just like…well, like this: “As we progressed, [he] happily accepted my total rewriting of [his] book with the same emailed response, ‘reads well’.

    And then the other shoe dropped. In my case, it wasn’t so much an email as it was the decision to not continue working on the book. His reason? “Too much work”.

    Did I miss-represent how much work was involved in writing a book? That is to say, how much work the client had to do? I don’t think so. I’m always on the lookout for better ways to explain to a client or potential what kind of work they’ll be doing while we, their professional ghostwriters, are putting it in writing. I like your conclusion, Michael. The idea that somewhere along the way, in my writing no doubt, I “lost some sensitivity to my client’s precious words”…that goes a long way to preventing it in the future.

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