I am pleased to welcome back veteran Write Naked guest contributor Kimberly Bunker. Kimberly can now say she has been an annual contributor to WN since 2015. Back then she brought us one of the most popular posts of all time on WN: Day-in-the-Life at the New York Pitch Conference. Last year she shared her experience at the notorious AWP Writer Conference. She takes a step away from her conference experiences in today’s guest post. Instead, she takes us into her everyday life–as a ghostwriter of several books.
Behind the Pen of a Ghostwriter
By Kimberly Bunker
To the public eye, ghostwriters are invisible.
By contract, they stay out of the spotlight. The client gets the byline, the ghostwriter gets her pay cut, and everyone goes home.
That makes it really, really hard for a beginner to learn how the process works.
When I started ghostwriting my first book a year ago, I looked everywhere for guidance. How does anyone ghostwrite a whole book? How do you juggle multiple projects and stay sane? Is it fun or horrible or both?
Everything I read was vague and of no help. So, mentor-less, I set out on my own, making it up as I went along. (Isn’t that how most writing goes, anyway?)
Today, I’m ghostwriting three books: a self-help book, an exercise how-to, and a memoir. For any of you beginners out there, or anyone curious to see, here’s a peek into my invisible writing life:
7:30 am: Get up, make coffee, work on my own novel. (I squeeze it in when I can.)
9:00 am: Turn to project #1– Joy (not her real name).
Joy and I have been working on a self-help book for a year now. Today, she gives me notes on the last section I sent her. I type them in red in the document as she talks. Then I interview her about her childhood for Chapter 7. I ask things like “What was your sister’s cat’s name?” She cries when she talks about her mom.
Lunchtime: Go for a walk. (Walks are necessary; they are palate-cleansers between courses.)
1:30: Conference call with Martin, my client for Project #2, and the experts contributing to his exercise book. It becomes clear during this call that our pitch is weak. He and I reconvene afterwards to brainstorm. We pick a new title that’s more specific and marketable.
Sigh. This means I’ll have to overhaul the whole manuscript (about 40 pages). I put it in my calendar to start tomorrow.
3:30pm: Quick stroll around the block. I think of ideas for both my novel and Joy’s book; rush home to write them down.
3:45pm: Turn to Project #3, Paul and his memoir. We just started, so his manuscript is only a few pages long. I realize I need more info from him before I can write any more. Also, I need to watch Forrest Gump for structure ideas (Paul said that’s what he wants his book to be like).
I make popcorn and pull up my novel instead.
5:00pm: Joy calls unexpectedly with a radical new direction for her book. I try to help her decide if it’s worth derailing the whole project for. (I desperately hope it’s not.)
Writing any book involves a lot of second-guessing and starting over. That’s true in ghostwriting, too, but here, it involves two people. It’s my job to guide my clients through those hard times, toward their own gut instinct. Frequently, I overhaul their manuscripts. Again. And again. And again. I do it with my own book, so I can’t complain when they need me to do it with theirs.
That is possibly the hardest part of ghostwriting.
6:30pm: I hang up, close my computer and jot down the questions I want my brain to work on overnight. What should be the subtitle of Joy’s book? How can I capture more of Martin’s sarcasm? Can I bill Paul two hours for watching Forrest Gump?
For the rest of the evening, I deliberately do not think about writing. I go to barre or yoga, see friends or read. Bed by 11pm. Rinse and repeat.
It’s different every day, and with every client. There’s no norm for ghostwriting a book, just like there’s no norm for writing a novel. The process is as unique as the two people involved.
Do you ghostwrite? What’s it like for you? I’d love to hear other ghostwriters’ experiences!
Kimberly Bunker received her MFA in fiction from St. Joseph’s College in Brooklyn, NY. Now living in Fredericksburg, VA, she’s putting (what she hopes are) the finishing touches on her first novel. She has taught creative writing in New York City and upstate New York, in jails, prisons, colleges, libraries, and nonprofits. Her award-winning fiction has appeared in Glimmer Train, Portable Magic: An Anthology, PANK Magazine, and others. When she’s not writing, she’s working on an organic produce farm on the Northern Neck of Virginia. Follow her on Instagram @k4marie.