Monday, August 26, 2013

How to Become a Ghostwriter

A friend recently asked me how I got started in ghostwriting. I really had to think about it for a few minutes, because much like Mr. Darcy's self-professed love for Elizabeth, "I was in the middle before I knew that I had begun." 

In keeping with the general tone of my adult life, success as a ghostwriter came to me as a complete surprise. I never intended to do any such thing. 

I figured that if I planned to spend hours feverishly pounding at the keyboard in tragic despair, with my daydreams of dazzling the reading public eventually devolving into a forlorn hope that at the very least I wouldn't produce something completely moronic, then the least I deserved would be some credit for the finished product.

But I also like to eat, so it's nice when I get paid to write. For that reason alone, I've found ghostwriting appealing. Because no matter whose byline my work gets published under, I'm the one throwing fistfuls of bills into the air at the end of the month. 

No... I don't actually do that. 

(Very often.)

But that's not the point of this article. The point at hand is that anybody interested in a glamorous career in ghostwriting need only to adhere to the following simple steps.

How to Become a Ghostwriter: 

1. Assume non-corporeal form. Although this first task may seem more complicated than anything you'd anticipated, remember that if you're still in corporeal form, you are not, by definition, even qualified as a ghostwriter. 

2. Devise a way to consume coffee while in non-corporeal form. Again, this is complicated, but critical. If you fail to master this step, I'm afraid there's just no hope for you. Coffee has long been considered a basic writing fuel, and I'm afraid that without access to it, you may as well just give up.

3. Install speech-to-text software on your computer. On second thought, better take care of this before you assume non-corporeal form. Otherwise you'll just be floating around your apartment drinking coffee all day with nothing else to do. (On second second thought, that actually sounds really cozy.) 

4. Learn to pronounce your words crisply and clearly for the benefit of your new software. Although even if you pronounce your words as carefully as possible, your software is still highly likely to sabotage you. (I suspect it's in league with auto-correct.)

5. Find ghostwriting jobs and start working your non-corporeal magic! Once you've taken care of all the prerequisites, the best ways to get involved in ghostwriting are to make use of your writing connections and to be in the right place to accept a project at the right time. That's all there is to it!

Okay, truth be told, getting started in any writing career requires a witches' brew of skill, supply/demand, connections, and luck. It's almost impossible to predict how, where, or when a writer will gain traction.

For writers just starting out, it wouldn't hurt to get hired by a third-party content provider that matches your skill set, such as, Blogmutt, or WriterAccess. Though there are some precautions to take when writing in these arenas, proven success in smaller projects could help leverage larger jobs down the road. 

It's true that publishing firms do sometimes contract ghostwriters to help write how-to books and celebrity autobiographies, but they're unlikely to hire unknowns with no experience. These small jobs could provide not only experience but also connections that may one day lead to getting a pen in the door.

* * *

The truth is that my inadvertent foray into ghostwriting reflects nearly a mirror image of my somewhat surprising career as a classroom teacher--a career that began through seeming happenstance and then somehow continued for thirteen years. 

One day I was a college graduate with a degree in ministry, and the next thing I knew, I ruled a few hundred teenagers who rotated in and out of my musty classroom and stared unnervingly at me on a daily basis. 

Panicky backtracks for certification and lesson-planning expertise ensued, but I found in the end that genuine improvement only came through experience. 

Much like what happened with my accidental teaching career, my start in ghostwriting sort of just... happened to me. One connection who knew of my writing skills asked me to ghostwrite something. That went well. Then another opportunity came, then another, then another, then another. 

I didn't advertise or update my resume. One day I just woke up and realized that for now, this was something I was doing. 

The lesson I learned about teaching, I've found to hold true with writing: that nothing beats experience. And while ghostwriting may not win me much glory, it's doing more than just paying my bills. It's giving me daily experience in meeting deadlines, handling reader expectations, and dealing with rejection. 

Best of all, it's getting me that much closer to completing my 10,000 hours. And once I've reached that pinnacle of expertise, nothing will stop me. 

Not even being in non-corporeal form!


Special thanks to my friend Marie - librarian, bibliotaph, adventurer, and practitioner of joyful living - who not only daily influences my reading and new media choices, but also became the inadvertent inspiration for this post when she posed a serious question to me last week about ghostwriting and then patiently sat through a string of very silly responses. 

This one's for you.

Monday, August 19, 2013

How to Solve a Problem in Four Easy Steps

There are two groups of people on Facebook.

First, there are those who seem to have no problems and spend each day in shafts of buttery sunlight drinking gently-steaming cups of  perfectly-brewed herbal tea while watching kittens frolic in the dewey meadows of their perfect, hypothetical lives. Their children, golden-haired cherubs with no sticky-patches-turned-dirt-smears adorning their fresh cheeks, do differential calculus while potty training themselves. Their bosses love them, their spouses are perfect, they ran ten miles this morning, and there's always something delicious baking in the oven. 

The alchemy of their touch turns all to gold.

Then there are the rest of your contacts. You know the type I mean. The ones who seem to exist in a perpetual vortex of unstinting drama, ridiculousness, arm-flailing, and despair. Never mind that the majority of this turmoil is self-inflicted. Every comment is wrong, the world hates them, nothing matters, and don't you dare say anything about it because you don't understand anyway. 

All histrionics, all the time.

Although you may assume that this post on problem solving is directed to the second group in particular, in reality both of these extremes - the Positive Polly and the Negative Nancy alike - could benefit from its wisdom. 

And so could people like you -- the Average Joes who see themselves as somewhere in between.

Because let's admit it. 

We all have problems. 

How to Solve a Problem in Four Easy Steps

Step 1: Ignore the problem. I'm often astounded at how many times people skip this simple step. Those who skip it do so at their own peril, for it has been known to work on a variety of problems from strange smells to door-to-door salesmen to rejected boyfriends. If you ignore them long enough, they'll usually go away, requiring no further emotional expenditure on your part.  So your first approach to dealing with problems should be just to stay calm and ignore them if you can. 

This is very good advice that will probably never backfire in any way.

Step 2: Start researching steps to solve the problem. If the problem is too big to be ignored, you have no recourse but to set about solving it. If you're smart, you'll no doubt start looking for answers on the internet, where all arguments and pieces of advice are valid and reliable. 

I recommend starting on Pinterest. Worst case scenario: even if you don't find a solution to your problem, you'll have enjoyed some relaxing time clicking through outlandish ideas that - although they have have no real bearing on your life -  at least serve to distract you from the issue at hand to the extent that you're no longer upset. Best case scenario: you'll develop a passion for hand-dipping all-natural, seasonally-festive tallow candles.

Step 3: Use logic to find a solution. Difficult as an obstacle may seem, there's always a solution. Take, for example, the mother of a hapless childhood friend, who upon tiring of telling him to keep his room clean, took a day while he was at school to empty everything from his room except for a mattress and a pair of underpants. When he complained that such treatment was intolerable, she promised that on each subsequent day, he'd get a fresh pair of underpants. BOOM. Room clean - problem solved. 

It's usually just that easy. 

Step 4: Reward yourself with some Me Time. After all, you've been working hard all day problem solving. You deserve it.  


Those all-natural, seasonally-festive tallow candles aren't going to hand-dip themselves. 

Monday, August 12, 2013

How to Support a Book Habit, Part 2


Since we've already covered How to Choose a Book and How to Find Time to Read, it's now time to get down to the nitty gritty.

How to Support Your Book Habit without Breaking the Bank:

First, you would do well to note the Reader's Prime Directive:

Never pay for books unless absolutely forced to do so.

Let's face it: like any habit, marathon reading can prove quite pricey. Even if you were only to read one book per week, the charges would really add up. 

After a bit of impromptu math, I discovered that based their list prices, last week's books alone should have cost me $83.19. 

At that rate, I'd be looking at an annual reading budget of $4,325.88!

In reality, though, last week's reading cost me next to nothing, mostly because I've learned to make use of every single book-borrowing system available to me:

  • Public Libraries - With the added benefit of inter-library loans, you can get your hands on a huge segment of your to-read list. Granted, holding periods are sometimes involved. No systems are perfect. But with the added benefit of being able to wander the stacks aimlessly, stumbling across gems we never would have intentionally searched for, the benefits of libraries far outweigh any small criticisms that we might offer. If not for one of those serendipitous moments among the shelves, I would never have stumbled upon Ann Rule and succumbed to the siren's song of the True Crime genre.
  • Friends/family/acquaintances - Developing a network of like-minded reading friends means that you'll rarely be in want of either reading recommendations or copies of the books themselves. I generally keep a Borrowed Book stack, which rarely collects dust due to the constant state of flux. Only because of an opportune loan from a trusted friend did I fall in love with Alan Bradley's pint-sized poisoner Flavia de Luce and the entire constellation of characters orbiting her self-absorbed little world.  
  • E-reader loans - Although the technological aspect seems tricky to a few readers, and some publishers have put various limits on whether or not certain e-books can be shared, the fact remains that many books can be loaned among devices. Granted, many of the books I've actually wanted to share haven't been share-able. But perhaps your luck will be better than mine.
  • Netgalley - Publishers, readers, and authors all benefit from sites like Netgalley, which provide advanced copies of soon-to-be-published books to teachers, bloggers, and other professionals. It's through the wonder of Netgalley that I've already lost my heart (and tiny, shredded bits of my soul) to Elizabeth Wein's soon-to-be-released Rose Under Fire. (*sob!*)

Every once in a while, though, for one reason or another, a book does need to be purchased. For one thing, you can't always find what you're looking for, even in the extensive public library systems or among the private collections of friends. 

In such desperate cases, when you absolutely must acquire a book, ask yourself the following series of questions:

  • Can I buy it used?
  • Should I download a cheaper e-book version?
  • Can I possibly wait until the next birthday/holiday and request it as a gift?

Of course, these principles aren't ironclad. There are certain exceptions that necessitate spending a little hard-earned cash, such as any time Connie Willis publishes something in the Oxford Time Travel sequence (as the row of pristine hardbacks across the room can attest. Such an event not only justifies shelling out full price for a hardback but also completely warrants pre-ordering). 

The point is this: supporting a reading habit can be expensive, but you won't necessarily have to give up the necessities of life in order to support your obsession.

Unless, that is, you want to.

Classical scholar Desiderius Erasmus, in writing to a friend about his intent to study Greek, once stated, "Ad Graecas literas totum animum applicui; statimque, ut pecuniam acceptero, Graecos primum autores, deinde vestes emam," which probably doesn't mean much to most of us. In English this translates to, "I have turned my entire attention to Greek. The first thing I shall do, as soon as the money arrives, is to buy some Greek authors; after that, I shall buy clothes."

This sentiment is most often quoted in variant form, thus: 

"When I get a little money I buy books; and if any is left I buy food and clothes."

We get you, Erasmus.

We really, really do.


Monday, August 5, 2013

How to Support a Book Habit, Part 1

12/14/2010: I have a system

If you pay any attention at all to the list of books scrolling down the right-hand column of this blog, you're aware that I like to read. 

I like to read a lot.

For some reason, this fact seems to make people curious. The top three questions that people generally ask about my reading habits are as follows:

  • How do you decide what to read?
  • How do find so much time to read?
  • How can you afford it?

Since I've already covered How to Choose a Book in a previous post, I'll spend the next few posts focusing on the other two questions. 

How to Find Time to Read:

1. Decide that reading is worth the investment.

When people hear that I like to read, they invariably trot out the excuse that they just "don't have time" to read. While I'm appreciative of the busyness of life (especially the busyness of full-time parents. Seriously, all respect in the world to you people!), I also know that no matter how busy we are, we invariably invest time in what we think is important. While most of us work very hard, we're not machines: we generally build time into our days for things that are important. If we believe that reading is important, then we'll build reading time into our schedules.

And reading is important for many reasons, not the least of which is that recent studies link reading to increased cognitive function in old age and a decrease in symptoms of dementia.

2. Don't feel the need to lose sleep over a book.

Have I lost sleep over books in the past? You bet your Harry Potter boxed set. It's how I made it through graduate school. 

Will I do it again? Probably. 

But being a reader doesn't necessarily mean staying up all night to devour an entire book. In all honesty, my current schedule (which involves, among other absurdities, getting up at 4:40am) requires that it's generally lights out on or before 9:00pm. 

These days I couldn't stay up reading all night if I tried.

3. Stop seeing the issue as either/or.

In discussing reading habits with my high school students, I've learned quickly that their primary assumption is that since I like to read, reading must be all I do, ever. They also assume that I instantly hate all TV shows and movies because they're not books, and that really all I do after work is to rush home and collapse with a book.

Bless their little hearts.

For one, at the very least I have to keep up with housework and laundry.

But seriously. 

I'm a heavy reader, sure. But I'm also active in my church and community, a contributor to the local fine arts scene, a member of a busy social group, and an all-around participant in travel of all kinds. My pop culture knowledge may be a bit spotty, but I have TV shows that I keep up with and movies that I adore. 

Being a lover of books does not limit my interactions with the world. If anything, it enriches them.

4. Read what you can, when you can.

Find the holes in your schedule and plug them with words.  If there aren't any holes, make some. 

If you can't make time to get through a book, fine. Keep magazines and blog posts on hand to fill whatever time you find. Load articles on your smart phone and read them when you're locked in your bathroom for Mid-morning Mommy Time. 

Whatever it takes.

Granted, as a single adult who lives alone, I'm pretty much able to order my off hours as I choose, meaning that I can make time every afternoon and/or evening to read. Because my brain needs multiple functions simultaneously in order to feel comfortable, reading helps get me through mundane single-function activities such as eating, drying my hair, washing dishes, or folding laundry. (I've just learned to be very careful how I prop the books.) 

In addition, I'll admit that I can read rather quickly without straining comprehension. This fact alone goes a long way toward explaining to people how I find so much time to read. Yes, I do make more time to read than your average adult, but I also read quite quickly.  

So there's that. 

But since reading quickly doesn't necessarily improve the value of a reading experience, it's definitely best to concentrate on quality rather than quantity. 

* * *

The truth is that for those of us who are already supporting a book habit, finding time to read isn't necessarily the issue. For us, it's getting through the rest of life that can sometimes pose a challenge -- especially when we've been forced to put down a gripping story and go to work just as the plot is reaching a turning point. 

That's the worst. Literally the worst. If you think cancer or world hunger or the energy crisis or the whole Detroit bankruptcy issue is actually the worst, then you've never been ripped away from Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore just as Clay is about to have his epiphany. 

Because if you had, then you would get it.

You would begin to understand the emotional cost of supporting a book habit.

* * *

Next, we will handle how to deal with the actual financial toll of supporting a book habit in "How to Support a Book Habit, Part 2."