I’ve ghostwritten text for a diverse group of people:
- a Swedish management psychology and productivity expert
- a Black tech executive advocating for marketing insights from extreme racial, socioeconomic, age, and LGBTQ diversity in hiring
- an Indian-born Hindu tech entrepreneur
- a woman in Alaska who’s an expert on ghostwriting
- a Zen Buddhist high-school dropout who disrupted an entire industry
- an Irish marketing expert who also ran a wine store
- an Indian-born public health expert
- an Asian woman expert in both marketing and corporate culture
- a Jewish woman business leader, entrepreneur, and political analyst
- a doctor and medical innovator who transformed our understanding of inflammation
- a Black small business owner and innovation expert
- an Asian woman who is an internationally known expert in social media and disruption
- a white guy who is a tech thought leader (this actually describes several clients)
I don’t change my writing style that much when writing in the voices of these people.
Why? Because of what I’m writing. I’m writing about business strategy or personal productivity, in general. That requires an authoritative tone.
Anyone can take on an authoritative tone. It demands clarity, logic, and a dedication to facts. It uses structure and sentence length to communicate drama and emphasis. It eschews slang, sentence fragments, and exclamation points.
Interestingly, the people here who are in groups that are often out of power use this tone to gain respect. My diverse clients all want people to believe them, not because of they who they are, but because of the power of what they are saying. Race and gender don’t enter into it.
When people collaborate on writing — either with each other or with me — this tone gives them a common way to write. It reduces the confusion that comes from different writers using different styles. They all want to communicate “You should listen to this because it is unassailably right” and this gives the a way to do this together.
It’s interesting to me when and why this fails, too.
I had to adjust my style for the Zen Buddhist high-school dropout. He was writing a memoir. He wrote most of it himself; I just wrote part of his proposal and edited the rest of the text. It would not have made sense for me to write like me, because his style is very different, a little informal, and focusing on vivid personal description and short sentences. Since it was a memoir, it was important to keep that voice.
There were a couple jobs I didn’t take since I didn’t feel I could adopt the voice they needed. One was a Black bisexual expert on diversity and inclusion — I just couldn’t effectively get inside her head. Another was a woman writing about harassment and success in a male-dominated workplace. Again, I felt unable to inhabit her experience.
There was only one case where I had to adjust my prose because of a client’s personal qualities. I’d ghost-written a case study about the Alexa skill for the Butterball Turkey hotline and included the phrase “juicy and delicious turkeys.” But I had failed to realize that the client, who was the Hindu tech entrepreneur, was a vegetarian. We changed the text so he no longer sounded like an avid carnivore.
Where the text is highly personal, I adjust my writing style accordingly. I try to have an ear for the client’s ways of speaking. I try to find things to relate to in their experience. That can stretch pretty far, but there are limits.
The internal debate
Versions of these people are now all inside my head. I’d love to have a party and invite them all.
The Swedish management expert and the Jewish entrepreneur turned political analyst would have a spirited and principled argument about politics.
The Irish marketing expert and the Black radical-diversity-for-marketing advocate would have a nice right-brain left-brain debate about marketing.
The doctor, the Black innovation expert, and the Asian disruption expert would get into a spirited discussion about where innovation actually comes from and how it goes from idea into practice.
All the people here are interested in getting to the truth and learning, and they’re all civilized. That’s why the party would be full of fascinating discussions, not name-calling and brawling.
In some sense, this is because they all share a common language. I don’t mean English. I mean rigorous reasoning and thinking expressed in words, with a bit of an edge.
I’ve profoundly valued the diversity in my clients, because it educates me about the world. And it’s far more interesting than surrounding myself with nothing but old white guys.
On the other hand, since they all write in nearly the same voice, I wonder if I’m limiting my clientele and their perspectives. Just because there is diversity in my client base doesn’t mean its diverse enough to really enlighten me.
What do you think?