How much truth do we really exchange when we exchange pleasantries?
“Hey, Karen! It’s good to see you. How are you?”
“Hi Tom, It’s good to see you too. I’m good; how are you?”
Those of us whose job is relationship building, such as in a sales context, might have this exchange a dozen times a day. The conversation falls out of our mouths before we even have a chance to think about it. It’s not really communication, it’s habit. Is it a greeting? Yes. A social exchange? Absolutely. Does it convey any actual information? Maybe. But truth?
Being greeted in this way isn’t likely to frustrate you. Socially, we’ve come to expect it. But we also know what it feels like when we begin to suspect that an entire conversation is colored with superficiality. It can make us feel like we’ve wasted our time, or worse – like the person on the other end doesn’t trust us enough with the truth. Their truth.
Communicating truth is tricky: it’s not quite the same as communicating information. Information is empirical, but truth is something different. So much of written content today is merely information. A lot of it is good writing. But great writing contains something else: the person’s truth. It embodies personality, lived experiences, and opinions on a topic. It’s the hard-earned “good stuff” that each one of us has to offer the other.
As a ghostwriter, how do you jump into the skin of another person and communicate their truth, as if they were the one at the keyboard? Besides having an innate sixth sense, it looks like the following:
- Observe. As you’re interviewing your author, watch carefully for changes in emotion. When their energy sparks or dips, take notice. What topic seems to have something more behind it? Even if it’s a completely different direction than the piece was originally heading, it may indicate that there are some gems of truth ready to be dug up – that the person may or may not even realize were there.
- Pursue. Have the courage to shift the conversation in that different direction or dive deeper than the author was offering. Share your observations (without judgment, of course): I noticed you seemed passionate about that topic. Can you tell me more about it?
- Extract. The most valuable truth you can convey is in the vehicle of the story. Any time you sense there may be a personal anecdote behind why your author believes a certain thing, do your best to coax it out.
Entering the Author-Verse
Your job as a ghostwriter is to bypass the initial insincerity that comes about in most of our natural communication, to skip past the small talk. Re-arranging already known facts in a new way will only get you so far. The only way to represent real truth is to the universe of the author.
Good ghostwriting pierces the veil of insincerity to create a piece that establishes the reader’s trust. As human beings, we tolerate superficiality, but we don’t prefer it. Ghostwriting is not about communicating the author’s words: it’s about communicating the author’s truth. Sometimes these align, and sometimes they don’t. Communication is an art and a craft, and we’re all on the journey together towards doing it better.