The Ghost of Polanski’s “The Ghost Writer”

(A scene from Roman Polanski’s “The Ghost Writer” with Ewan McGregor)

What follows is part I of my ghostwriter’s take on the shooting script for the movie, “The Ghost Writer”. This is where you’ll want to stop reading if you’ve not seen the movie. In the very next paragraph I give details you may not want to know about out of context. Last warning: SPOILERS AHEAD.

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Top 3 Reasons I Ghostwrite for a Living

Why do I ghostwrite for a living?

There are plenty of writing jobs out there for a writer with my level of talent, confidence and go-get-em. I love great advertising copy and the TV show Mad Men, so why not pursue copywriting as a career?  I could be a generalist and write anything that came my way, so why not that? Why don’t I give up the ghost and just write my own voice? What’s so compelling to me about writing– not just for other people, but as other people?

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Sometimes The Best Question Isn’t a Sentence

In 2003, a woman in her early 60’s hired me to teach her how to write a children’s book. Three months later, we sat down for the first time and this is what she said: “Before we get started, I need to tell you something. Three days ago I was diagnosed with terminal spinal cancer.” I asked if she still wanted to write a kid’s book. “No. I want to write my memoirs.”

And so began my first ghostwriting gig. At the time, I didn’t know it was ghostwriting. I only knew that I could write in any style of writing I wanted to. That’s all well and good, but what happens when your client has been in chemotherapy for a week, a month, a year, and either doesn’t have the energy or isn’t motivated to talk about her life? What do you ask someone like that when the scent of death sits at every turn?

You don’t talk at all.

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