What the Heck is a Memoir Ghostwriter, Anyway?

I met someone new yesterday, and it happened again. When people find out what I do, they often do this thing where they squint, look off into the distance, look at me, look off into the distance again, shake their head, and finally ask, “I don’t get it. What kind of people hire you to ghostwrite a book?”

That’s pretty much what happened. Usually, such new friends have never heard of a memoir ghostwriter before, and their brains kind of short-circuit for a minute while they try to process the new information.

The answer to the questions is: a wide variety of types of people in terms of ages, backgrounds, and intentions for the book. But what the clients usually have in common is that they have had a single remarkable experience in their lives that they want to write about.

Your Remarkable Experience

For instance, these experiences have included: an epic romance, inheriting a business, a spiritual awakening, being the subject of an FBI investigation, joining and leaving a cult, escaping from a communist takeover, coaching a baseball team, serving eleven years hard time, and rising out of the ghetto. The style of work I do designs a book around that important event, whatever it may be, so that the story reads with the suspense, character development, and plot twists of a novel.

Dramatizing Memories

Sometimes, the client wants the book to stay 100% true to life, and that’s another way of doing it. In a case like that, the book is more “journalistic” in style. In the cases where the book reads more like a novel, we often need to redramatize scenes. That means inventing dialogue and activities that may or may not have happened exactly like that.

In a situation like this (a novel based upon a true story) the key is to stay true to the emotional truth of the story. Those exact words might not have been said, but, in terms of overall plot, this is basically the truth. This is what happened, how it felt, and how it changed your life.

Explaining all that to someone who offhandedly asks, “So, what do you do?” is pretty difficult, but just saying “I’m a ghostwriter” doesn’t really cover it, either. So, in case my new friend is tuning in, this blog gives you something closer to the whole, slightly complicated, truth of what it is to be a memoir ghostwriter.

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