Writing for Nonlinear Thinkers

As a memoir ghostwriter, I encounter a lot of nonlinear thinkers. These are my best clients, actually, because they have all kinds of ideas and zero ability to put them into the form of a story that follows a progression through time. So, they know they need me as a ghostwriter. Once they realize I have no problem listening to information completely out of order, they get an immense sense of relief.

I’m an extremely linear thinker; that’s kind of my thing. Give me any conglomeration of information and I’ll form it into a logical argument or narrative story or well-organized informational book. I feel like that’s just something I was born with. Sure, they tried to teach us all that kind of thing in college, but I didn’t get why. It just seemed so obvious. Took me a long time to realize that’s not so obvious to a whole lot of people out there.

In fact, upon meeting these nonlinear people, it took me a long time to realize they weren’t bullshitting. They really think in terms of weblike connections, not timelines, and really can’t just tell you the story in the order that it happened. Over time, I’ve found that a lot of highly creative people are outside of that linear mindset, so these are some of my favorite memoirs to ghostwrite.

Talking to these nonlinear thinkers, I can get extremely frustrated. See, when they tell their stories, they keep changing the order in which things happened. Even the meanings of events change each time the story is told. Often, after an interview that was just meant to glean more details about a story that was almost completely written, I get so much more information that it changes everything about the story.

I have to rewrite it, but then I need more details, so here I go again, interviewing the client again, and again getting so much information about various interconnected things that it completely changes the story. I’ve learned to, first of all, appreciate these people because they are the reason I have a job. Secondly, the way I deal with them is basically just to keep going with these interviews and keep rewriting the stories until either we run out of time, if there’s a deadline, or until we just plain like the story. At that point, we STOP.

I mean: stop the interviews about the past. Because the storytelling really could go on forever. Dealing with these folks, as a ghostwriter, is actually a lot like doing improv, in the sense that if you keep going too long, the information gets stale, but right at the beginning, you’re still warming up. I have to discriminate and pick a point in the middle of the interviews, which are really information-mining sessions, to call it quits.

Working with such clients is fun for me, actually, because it really forces me into someone else’s head in a way that simple story-telling type interviews don’t. In the case of nonlinear thinkers, the memoir is often more about how the client thinks and analyzes events, rather than about exactly what happened.

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