So for the last few months, I’ve been comfortably busy with ghost writing work interspersed with my day job. As someone who’s in between degrees and planning out the rest of their writing career, it seemed like a good idea. Gain experience in a professional field in something that I already intend to go into, make money doing something that I love. It seemed like a no-brainer, especially when I picked up the work at a time when I needed money and I was having a hard time figuring out what it was that I wanted to do.
For anyone that doesn’t know, ghost writing is essentially writing someone’s story for them — whether it’s taking their ideas and giving them life, writing a story from an idea or plot. Someone else comes up with the idea while you do the real work; you are also not credited for this work, and going into ghost writing you know that your name will never be on any of the finished pieces, no matter how good they are. Sometimes you will be paid royalties for any of the stories that you’ve written, but it’s not always the case (I personally will not receive royalties for any of the works that I have written.)
Initially, it was fun. I was getting weekly writing experience, regular feedback on my writing, and I was getting paid for it. Despite not getting any credit for the work that I did, I had fun to begin with. I wrote romance stories, a genre that I don’t tend to write straight on without something else going on with the plot, but for stories I would never write myself, it was an interesting experience getting out of my comfort zone. Writing experience is writing experience, no? It also seemed really cool to be getting paid to do something that I wanted to do.
The problems started to come the longer I was writing, when it became apparent to me that the content I was writing just wasn’t the kind of content that I wanted to write, regardless of whether or not my name was attached to it. Romance can be a fairly cliched genre, and when you’re writing short stories, clients tend to want it cliched, because in 20,000 words or less there’s only so much you can do with it depending on your client’s wants, and how strict they are on you sticking to their plotting. Typically, they want it extra cheesy, like the pizzas you eat in college knowing you ought not to, with lots of love at first sight, head over heels, ridiculous stuff you’ve seen already. Now if that’s your preference, of course, that’s fine. But as a writer, it’s hard to enjoy doing your job when your job consists of writing the same plot with different names and a slightly varied setting, with very little freedom to do something different. Something fresh. This is, also, partly because you subconsciously and consciously don’t want to throw down your best ideas on writing you will never be recognized for. So at the end of the day, I was left writing mediocre content from and for people that couldn’t or wouldn’t do the work to write their own content.
And don’t get me started on trying to write LGBT+ stories. I wrote one lesbian story and one bisexual story that featured polyamory out of the ten plus short stories that I’ve written in the course of being a ghost writer. Those were only because the clients asked for those specifically. If you want to write something with people of color, or with LGBT+ people, or disabled people, you’re going to have to dig, and dig, and claw. Given most of my characters in my own writing tend to be queer, people of color… it was a rather restrictive box.
Preferences aside, I also learned it was very easy to be cheated out of your earnings — or rather, people have no problem trying to cheat you out of your earnings, or try to pay you less than you deserve. I have seen a range of clients attempt to charge extremely low for ghost writers (clients that I have had, I’ve been paid anywhere between 5 and 10 dollars per every 1,000 words, which isn’t terrible.) I’ve also experienced a client simply not paying me, and not communicating with me post-project, which was only resolved because the freelancing site that I use automatically funds you your earnings if the client doesn’t approve or respond to your work after two weeks. And, at the end of the day, it’s really not all that unexpected. As a ghost writer, you’re basically paid to cheat for other people who either can’t write or don’t feel like writing; ethical business practices aren’t always there.
It should be noted here, that I knew exactly what I was signing up for when I began. I signed contracts, I read over rules. I knew I would get no credit. This isn’t a ‘I was duped’ story, rather ‘this is an experience I tried and I realized quick that it wasn’t what I thought it would be.’
After sitting on all of this for a rough month, I’ve decided that ghost writing isn’t for me. I want the freedom to write good stories. I want the freedom to write the kind of characters that I want to see in print. What’s more… I want my name on what I want, without another individual taking credit for the work that I’ve done. I’ve gained a lot of insight as a writer from doing this, certainly. But I think it’s best left as an experience, and not as a career choice. I also didn’t really want to continue to risk the chance of not being paid by clients who end all communication after a story has been delivered — I love writing, but I also love getting paid for it, thank you.
With that in mind, I’m happy to getting back to writing my own stories. Here’s to growth and progress. I originally thought of my choosing to pull out of the ghost writing was a failure. Here I was, just a few months in and not wanting to do it anymore. But that’s the thing — you try something, you don’t like it, you move on. I’m happy to move on to bigger, better things.
Namely, the cup of tea sitting at my desk and the blank word document waiting to be utilized to its full potential, for a story of my own.