TOP Talk

Taking the Scare out of Ghostwriting

Posted October 30, 2014 By Laureen Sanderson

Topics: Content


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Have a clear sense of purpose and audience for your writing.

Don’t rush the briefing process whenever you are collecting information for your piece. Liberally ask questions of the person giving you the prompt, and don’t be afraid to discuss a potential outline for the piece. If you don’t know the purpose of what you are going to craft, it’s going to be a lot more difficult to take the pen.

Read for personality and pacing.

It’s crucial to read representative materials in a given voice before you attempt to write within it. Gather a variety of materials including white papers, speeches, reports, letters and even social media posts penned by the person you’re writing for and familiarize yourself with their voice and style. What you want to identify first is cadence. How does this person pace out their ideas and statements? Would you describe the sentence structures as dense or direct?

Underline key verbs and adjectives.

Often, the secret to capturing someone’s voice is in finding his or her style of word choice. The verbs and adjectives people choose often betray a deeper insight into their thought process, whereas nouns are less revealing. Everyone has words or turns of phrase they prefer – use those signature catchphrases occasionally to flavor your ghostwriting.

Overwrite.

When you’ve finally got a sense of the voice, just sit down and start writing. Let the ideas flow, and if you get stuck on a given sentence, write it three times in different ways and move on. We all know the feeling of writing a few pages before getting to anything useable, so don’t be afraid to just start.

Edit and review.

Go through your work and remove all the unnecessary clutter of words or ideas. Can you picture the person you’re writing for actually reading this out loud? Whether they’ll actually read it out loud is another matter. When you can picture them reading your text aloud with ease, you’re close to capturing their true voice. (Reading texts aloud, by the way, is good practice for web writing. It forces your style to be punchy, direct and scannable.)

Leave a little room.

If you’ve got a regular stint writing for someone in your company, drop little color-coded prompts for them to add a colorful detail, or a relevant anecdote. Make sure that they are easy to spot for the reviewer, but allow them to put the finishing touches on the work, since it will eventually bear their name.

Adapt and extend.

In this content-marketing era, expect to repurpose your work into different media: blogs, print, academic papers, or social media. Don’t be afraid to shift the voice to accommodate different avenues. It might help to imagine a social environment where conversation in a particular style would be appropriate. I equate a casual blog post to a panel discussion at a conference—friendly, warm, but to the point. Other possibilities include text more akin to a conversation at a formal state dinner, a relaxed brunch with friends, or a string of mobile texts between colleagues.

Get smart on process.

If you do your ghostwriting job well, chances are good you’ll get asked to repeat the gig. Think carefully about what did and didn’t work in your previous collaboration. Which medium yielded the best material from your author: did you hit paydirt on the phone interview, or was combing through their tweets the most valuable resource? Mold your communication style to your author’s preferences, and you’ll extract their very best material – which will make your job that much easier.

Ghostwriting can be incredibly rewarding. It allows you to consider issues of style, tone, and brand message that make you a more flexible and adaptable writer. Taken in properly, these skills can add new variety or spice to the pieces you pen in your own name.

Laureen Sanderson

About Laureen Sanderson

"Great work. When the thinking is spot on, the execution is flawless and the right results are there, it’s a beautiful thing. The client sees the value, recognizes the contributions to the business and views the external PR team as a true extension of his own. That’s motivating, and it’s the best part of the craft."