I’ve built up quite an active little practice as a ghostwriter. Funny, I thought everyone knows what ghostwriting is, but discovered that I have to explain it at least as often as ‘mediation’. It’s not that obvious if it’s not the stuff of your life. I started doing it because I love writing and there’s good money in it. What I didn’t realise was how it would be my next giant learning curve.
[Ghostwriting is where one writes something on behalf of someone else – they put their name to it, and you remain as the ghost in the background, although you do retain copyright, ironically.
Mediation: it is a process of facilitation where I help people find solutions to the things they’ve been quarrelling about. I don’t tell them what to do, I just help them figure it out in a safe way.]
But back to the main point:
It may seem an odd combination, being a ghostwriter and a mediator. This morning I realised that it isn’t so. The ghostwriting is not only an excellent proving ground for refining my writing skills but it is also giving me deep insights into the ways of mediation. I have a few Canadian clients but mostly they
are from very different worlds – the Philippines, Australia, the USA, the Middle-East, East Africa, South Africa, England. The writing involves a range of assignments, which means that I’m broadening my general knowledge – often on topics I didn’t think I needed to know much about, but more frequently on topics that become fascinating as I work on them. My awareness of cultural nuances is sharpening as a result. Australians ARE very different from Canadians, for example even though South Africans see both as ‘granny societies’.
The greatest challenge in ghostwriting is writing in someone else’s voice. I learnt quickly that it is difficult to write for someone who is in the same profession as I have been. I had a client who is a human resources consultant. We had similar views on HR issues like employee engagement and motivation, but I found myself being more outspoken on his behalf than he was comfortable with. I had to tone down my personal rhetoric to fit with his voice. It was really hard to do because I was writing about things I know a lot about and about which I have strong opinions. I learnt. I adjusted.
I’ve ghostwritten irate citizens’ letters to Presidents, articles on the benefits of using solar panels and living off the grid, and heartfelt letters from a mother to a daughter. I write business plans and website
content. I’m now engaged in editing a ghostwritten book. And in all this work I discovered the discipline of mentally placing myself in the other person’s situation and value system so that the voice, when it appears over my client’s name, will be authentic and sincere. I don’t do bluster well in my personal capacity, but I’ve discovered that I can bluster very well in X’s voice. I am also not that adept at whining at my kids (I don’t think), but I have been able to say things on behalf of a mother that she couldn’t find the words for. Her feedback was ‘how do you manage to see inside my soul?’ which of course is awesome. It might be that I just struck it lucky that time, but I was proud that I’d managed to keep my inner voice still while writing on her behalf.
Living in someone else’s head for a bit is hard to do: being non-judgementally open to others’ values and perspectives is a critical competency in a mediator. What I have discovered is that the discipline of keeping an open mind is becoming easier because I practice it daily as a ghostwriter. I do more ghostwriting than mediation, which used to worry me – fearing that my mediation skills would dull over time. Now I realise that my paid hobby serves as my mediation gym – I keep fit by writing some every day.
© Delphine du Toit March 9, 2014