Keeping the writer ego off the page. It’s the story, silly
One of my jobs is ghostwriting and luckily I seem able to leave my ego at the door. But my ego jumped up recently when over cranberry juice, breakfast trout and bustling cafe noise, my client shared the ‘amazing’ reaction to our recent writing project. I was thrilled and proud, and then, for a nanosecond, I felt flat. As it did not carry my name, no one would know I’d worked on the ‘amazing’ project. But the writer and the writing should be invisible, so that the reader thinks only of the story.
I chose to keep my name out of it so the client’s prospects and clients would see only their expertise in their field.
I’ve had many journalism bylines, and that feels good when you’ve completed good work but quiet satisfaction from a report that exceeds expectations is also good. Nevertheless, I expect my ego will spring up at times and cry, “Hey what about me? It isn’t fair.”
But for some of my jobs, it just doesn’t work to add my name. This is usually the case when working with architects — a room containing the egos of designers and writer’s ego can be a crowded space — but more to the point, it’s about the client’s design and what my client’s client needs.
To reach this requires collaboration. They can be dynamic, creative, and all-consuming with normal life falling away until the deadline is met. It happened with an architecture proposal last Christmas. The team worked day and night, with many changes made on the drawing board. From this a strong sense of a team emerged, a group of people that shared something unique. It is one of those benchmark experiences, the stuff of legends for the group that can never be erased. In several drafts, amid much fine tuning, and working remotely, I drove the development of the narrative. Presented in an exquisite book with gorgeous images, it ultimately reachs a niche audience of the 20 or so people in the world who needed to see that book. And for a nanosecond, I wished that book had my name on it. Then I remembered, it’s not my book. It’s a team book. And there will be books that are known, and books that are unknown. Not all of our work can, will, or even needs to be known. It is enough to do that work.
This work gives me the privilege of seeing the life and work of other people from the perspective of themselves and their clients. I am often invisible. And it’s OK, it’s better I am not in the way. My voice has its own place in my own writing.
So replete from breakfast and compliments for my work, my momentary craving for fame having passed, I set off with a silly smile, like the one spotted in the city that very day.
Acclaim is never assured, and is outside of our control, but the mastering the task and putting the words or pictures in a very particular order is in your control. It is what we are here to do.
Marian Edmunds is a writer working with architects and designers, a journalist (ex-Financial Times) and a writing coach working with businesses and individuals.