Confession: I’m old

Claudia Suzanne
5 min readDec 13, 2022

#ghostwriting #editing #author

Not one-foot-in-the-grave old, but socially, demographically, and legally old. I may still be on the right side of dirt, but I’m on the wrong side of corporate and political viability. So when I say I’ve been ghostwriting for fully half my life, I’m talking about a long, long time. Long enough to see more changes in the book industry than I can enumerate. And long enough to see ghostwriting evolve from the purview of a select few who relied on their instincts into a respected field of study.

Yet despite all the passing years and myriad titles that bear my mark, I still find it more effective to demonstrate ghostwriting than describe it. So let’s look at a passage (reprinted with permission, of course) from an author who wanted to share a theory developed in an extremely restricted environment with both her colleagues and the general public. Here’s the original text:

Individuals who are boundary seekers feel non existent in themselves. Feelings range from anxiety to frank panic occur when they are alone. The feeling is “No one here for me to see — no me.” It is what causes the development of the addictive self instead of the real self. A small part of the true self, the secret side, survives abuse and debasement and buries itself deep into the unconscious. It is the fearful and lonely part that must be hidden from betrayed by the Addictive Self. It is based on delusions of selflessness and requires lies and role playing in order to keep the true personal qualities concealed or secret. The addictive self survives because it is the only part of the personality that was validated and reinforced. The continued and consistent reinforcement of the addictive personality is the reason it remains so prominent. It emerged as a coping tool to survive childhood.

Quite an intricate paragraph, isn’t it? It would certainly never survive today’s text-assessing algorithms! If we simply edited it to resonate with her peers, maintaining the therapeutic third-person voice and language tier, it might come out something like this:

Individuals who are boundary seekers feel nonexistent in themselves. Their feelings, which range from anxiety to frank panic, occur when they are alone and amount to, “There’s no one here for me to see — no me.”

Those feelings are what causes the development of the addictive self instead of the real, or true self. A small part of the true self, the secret side, survives abuse and debasement and buries itself deep in the unconscious. Fearful, lonely, and based on delusions of selflessness, it must stay hidden to prevent it from being betrayed by the addictive self. It requires lies and role playing to keep its true personal qualities concealed or secret.

Meanwhile, the addictive self remains prominent. It emerged as a coping tool in childhood and was the only part of the personality validated or continuously and consistently reinforced.

In today’s BISAC-dominated landscape, that version wouldn’t fly under any Self-Help, Family and Relationships, or even Health and Fitness subject headings because it’s too jargon laden. Since it speaks directly to the therapeutic community, I’d have to tag it somewhere under Psychology. If I rewrote it for popular consumption, I could open it up along these lines:

Boundary seekers experience anxiety or even frank panic when they’re alone, often to the point of feeling as if they do not exist, as if “no one is here for me to see; there is no me.”

Those feelings of non-existence developed during their traumatic, dysfunctional childhood, when their addictive self emerged as a coping tool against the abuse and debasement they were experienced. Meanwhile, only a small, secret, lonely part of their real or true self survived, buried deep in their unconscious.

A Boundary Seeker’s addictive self relies on lies, role-playing, and delusions of selflessness to hide and protect the real self, which nevertheless remains ever fearful of being betrayed by the addictive self. Consequently, as the years go on, the real self burrows deeper and deeper into the unconscious, allowing the continually validated and reinforced addictive self to remain more-and-more prominent.

But I’m a ghostwriter, so I know jargon is a content disruption — wow, look at that; jargon! — for most trade readers. And I know explaining jargon can require a lot of extra verbiage that dilutes the salient message.

Even more, I’m well aware that descriptive text, also known as “telling” rather than “showing,” is an assessment-algorithm no-no.

As are the words “feeling” and “felt.” Yay algorithms! [sic]

So I pinpointed the salient message — “no me” — and made it the main point or thesis of the passage. Then I flipped the distancing third person to the personal (not aggressive or accusatory) second, converted the recitation into story, and reduced everything to reader-resonating trade language that maintained the author’s intent, perspective, and non-jargon tells.

Do you get anxious or panicky when you’re alone? Have you ever felt like you don’t really exist, like “there’s no one here for me to see — no me?”

You’re not alone. Your feelings are the same as other “boundary seekers,” people who grew up in abusive, demoralizing households.

You probably didn’t realize it at the time, but I’ll bet you created an outer or alter personality to protect yourself when you were little. I call that your “addictive self” — the lying, role-playing part of you everyone focuses on so the vulnerable, easily hurt “real” you can stay safely hidden away.

Meanwhile, your real self burrowed deeper and deeper behind your outer self’s shield, growing more and more frightened as the years went by until it didn’t feel like it even had validity, it didn’t exist: “No one here to see — no me.”

But your true self, the person you really are, is still alive! It’s just buried deep inside beneath the sneaky or deferential or whiny or unreliable person everyone has come to accept as you. And, I promise: its looking for a way to emerge so you can live honestly as the real you.

That’s the power of ghostwriting. It’s not editing; it’s not recitation. It’s conveying the author’s intent, perspective, knowledge, or tale to as wide an audience as is reasonably possible.

Naw…that’s a lousy description. But you get the idea

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