Wednesday, March 14, 2012

On ghostwriting

Julia Moskin writes in the New York Times about her career as a cookbook ghostwriter. You didn't really think that Martha Stewart, Rachel Ray, and Paula Deen wrote all of their endless cookbooks and magazine recipes themselves, did you? They are recipe EMPIRES.

It's actually the likes of Moskin who labor away in kitchens, trying out new recipes with scarcely a direction from the famous chef whose identities they are assuming, and when all the glory arrives, it is paid in homage to the celebrity chef, not the ghostwriter. If the writer is lucky, he or she might end up in the acknowledgements section. It reminds me of Kathy Selden fronting Lena Lamont in "Singin' in the Rain." These writers sacrifice their own careers to boost the careers and fame of others. Must be a thankless job:
"There is the uncomfortable fact that wherever you stand in a restaurant kitchen, trying to shrink into a fly on the wall, you are always in the way of someone with a more important job to do. There are impossible deadlines, hours of waiting around for tardy chefs and off-the-map assignments, like the two days I spent under armed guard in a walled compound in Bogotá, while the chef I was working with disappeared into the Colombian countryside. During those two days, with no cellphone or e-mail and only a Dora-the-Explorer ability to communicate in Spanish, I was essentially a prisoner, with plenty of time to think about my next career."
In many ways, I'm also a ghostwriter. For the 22 years I've been in the technical writing and editing field, I am the one who makes the engineers, scientists, planners, economists, etc., look professional and articulate. I'm the one who turns their technical jargon into English that a layperson can understand. In many cases, I'm the one who writes their documents, but my name does not appear on the cover. (In fact, even when a consulting team member writes a report or proposal, his or her name does not appear on the cover. The name of the firm does.)

In fact, my layperson's perspective (and English degree) qualify me for this job, because I can explain that your typical layperson is not going to understand a particular highly technical phrase. Yes, that liberal arts degree is paying off! I share that qualification with Moskin:
"Oddly, one of the best qualifications for the job is ignorance: the tricky steps and specialized skills that a chef will teach the ghostwriter as they work together are the same ones the writer will have to teach to a home cook in the text of the book. The best ghosts are the ones who anticipate the reader’s questions."
Next time you purchase a cookbook by a famous chef, take a moment to acknowledge the ghostwriters (perhaps other English majors!) behind it.

1 comment:

  1. That explains it! I have often wondered what you really do at work. You have told me but I still didn't really understand. After reading this blog post I feel like I understand. Thanks! On another note, you are amazing! Is this blog number 4, 5, or 6? I have a hard enough time fitting paying the bills and vacuming in. :)