About four months ago, I was chatting with the young woman cutting my hair and I asked her how she got into the hair business. She told me she was tired of her previous job working at a firm that matched their clients with in-house ghostwriters. We all know the dirty secret of political memoirs or when Nicole Richie chooses to pen a novel––ghostwriters. According to Merriam Webster, the term was first used in 1927 but history tells us that the concept pre-dates that.
intransitive verb: to write for and in the name of another
transitive verb: to write (as a speech) for another who is the presumed author
I found our chat to be super fascinating. She didn’t name names about specific clients, but she shared anecdotes of tumultuous relationships between the pseudo-famous clients and the poor writers that had been assigned to them. The whole business seemed sleazy and I could see how she chose to leave the biz and try her hand at hair.
Recently, I had been thinking of ghostwriters because a fellow writerly friend had been assigned to review Newt Gingrich’s Gettysburg: A Novel of the Civil War. He was understandably skeptical but ultimately enjoyed it. Newt shares the front cover with his co-writer, William R. Forstchen. I’m definitely not the first person in line to defend Gingrich, but I feel that his method was much more reasonable than slapping just his own name on the final product. At least, there is an image of co-authorship and a team effort.
The way the woman at the salon described her former profession was in my shadier terms–one person taking ownership of another’s work by producing a non-disclosure agreement and a modest payola. This whole business conjures up images of unscrupulous dealings and unethical behavior (maybe a bit of a stretch but still).
But in the grander scheme of things, do we ever criticize a politician for using a speech writer or do we poo-poo an unfunny and stilted Oscar presenter for their pre-scripted lines? The answer is no, but I can’t seem to shake this feeling of intellectual inauthenticity.