Donald Trump's co-writer and the ethics of ghostwriting

Donald Trump's co-writer and the ethics of ghostwriting

There's been some interesting debate in the ghostwriting community over the last few weeks since The New Yorker published an interview with Tony Schwartz, co-author of The Art of the Deal with Donald Trump in 1987.

In the interview, Schwartz pulls back the curtains on his time with Trump, essentially to make a case that the Trump he worked with is manifestly unsuitable to be president of the USA.

Debate has arisen from a perception by many who feel that Schwartz has broken a golden rule of ghostwriting by speaking out.

There's a reason why ghostwriters are so-called. We are 'ghosts' in the sense of being invisible.

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My favourite new tool for writing is not an app. It's a standing desk.

If there's one thing that writers do well, it is sitting. We are experts at it, simply because we get so much practice. We spend most of every day parked on our posteriors. Typically this is combined with a well refined hunch over the keyboard to provide the perfect recipe for a lifetime of tight shoulders and cricked necks. 

This is not good. Humans weren't designed to spend most of our time sitting. If we were we wouldn't need expensive chairs with height, tilt and lumbar adjustment – none of which ever seem to be quite right. On top of which we now have those pesky scientists exposing numerous risks to our health from prolonged sitting.

So what to do?

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Books without borders: the electoral threat to Australian publishing

Books without borders: the electoral threat to Australian publishing

One of the debates taking place on the fringe of the current Australian federal election campaign centres around our local book publishing industry and the Turnbull government's intention to remove the so-called 'parallel import' rules. 

Unless you are associated with or particularly interested in book publishing there is a good chance this issue has passed you by. However, if you are a book reader who believes in the importance of an Australian writing culture, now is the time to take notice. Your vote in the July 2 federal election could influence the future of the Australian writing industry.

Let me explain as best I can. Unfortunately this is a complex issue that really requires more than a blog post to fully describe so I'm going to have to summarise. However many others have also written on the issue (herehere and here are just three examples) so a bit of googling will get you a long way.

A little industry background

The global publishing industry operates on the basis of 'territorial rights'.

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Starting a new book writing project: embracing the unknown

Starting a new book writing project: embracing the unknown

I've recently started working on a new company history project. I've conducted interviews with about 20 people and had those interviews transcribed. I've also been provided with a number of newspaper articles and other items from the archives. All up I have about 200,000 words of raw material that needs to be condensed down to about one tenth of that for the final book.

At the moment I don't have a clear idea of what the finished product is going to look like structurally. I have some major headings in mind, but what order they will be presented in is unknown. And those topics may change too. There might be a few 'ins' and 'outs' along the way.

But that's okay. What I've learnt over the years is that uncertainty at this stage of a book project, or any large creative project for that matter, is quite normal.

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If you want to convince me, show me the evidence

If you want to convince me, show me the evidence

One of the great things about writing a business book is having the time and space to explore an issue properly. You have something you want to say, or an experience you want to share, and a book allows you to do this in a way that feels 'complete'. It allows you to present a well-rounded argument.

If you're being honest with your readers, your case will be built on a solid foundation of evidence. You won't present an ideological view that you then back up with evidence that supports your case, no matter how tenuous, while conveniently ignoring anything to the contrary. That is the domain of neoliberalsclimate change deniers and anti-vaxxers

Rather, you will use real evidence. But what is 'real' evidence?

In the context of a business book, as opposed to an academic dissertation, there are two main forms of evidence.

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How to ghostwrite a memoir in 7 steps (and 7 years)

How to ghostwrite a memoir in 7 steps (and 7 years)

Regular readers of this blog will have known that Scattered Pearls, a memoir of Sohila Zanjani, co-written with myself was due to hit the bookshelves in Australasia in early April this year. And indeed it did – on April 1, no less. It's incredibly satisfying to have the book out there, especially as it's taken a long time to get to this point.

So how did we get to this point? It's a question I've been asked a few times, and I think it's a good tale that I hope provides some insight into the writing and publication process. (Please forgive the longer than normal post.)

1. Find your subject

Sohila and I had known each other a few years before we started on this project. I had done some work for her as a consultant, and kept in touch via an occasional (paper) newsletter. As I moved the focus of my work to writing, I added the word 'Ghostwriting' to my list of services on said newsletter. Sohila noticed that and gave me a call.

2. Take a punt; make a commitment

We met.

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The power of a 'go to' routine

The power of a 'go to' routine

I've been a self-employed, home-based, full-time writer now for something approaching a decade. Which likely makes the extroverts amongst you a bit jittery. But it's a way of working that suits my particular personality quite nicely, thanks.

I'm often asked how I manage to work at home and not become distracted by other things around the house – housework, hobbies, even just the television. The answer is actually very simple: I have a routine, and I stick to it.

In fact the routine I use is more or less what I've been using ever since the first day I started working from my home office. Back then, I realised that if I was going to make the work-from-home thing work I would have to be disciplined about it – especially as I am someone who generally dislikes routine. From the very first day I was at my desk by 8am and it has been that way (give or take 15 minutes) ever since. 

The routine I use is built around my energy levels.

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Stay on the path and reap the reward ... whenever that may be

Stay on the path and reap the reward ... whenever that may be

Yesterday I received from our publisher a 'uncorrected proof' of a book I've been working on ... working on for the last seven years. Scattered Pearls is a memoir of Iranian-born Sohila Zanjani that I have co-written with her; it will be released in mid-April. The proof is effectively the final book – fully laid out and bound with the final cover. The final version for bookstores will have a glossier cover and include a handful of last-minute corrections.

To hold this book in my hands and flick through its pages is a surreal experience.

It's not the idea of a finished book that is so outlandish – I've worked on many of those now, many in the intervening seven years. It's just that this book has been such a large undertaking, so it's hard to believe that it's DONE.

My point in relaying this is not to suggest that Sohila and I are legends in our own time for having finished this project. Nor is it to create the impression that writing your book will be a herculean effort.

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Relearning the art of focus for greater productivity

Relearning the art of focus for greater productivity

One of my favourite albums of 2015 (and a favourite of many it seems) was by Melbourne artist Courtney Barnett. It also has a ripper title: Sometimes I sit and think, and sometimes I just sit.

'Sometimes I just sit.' Imagine that.

When did you last just 'sit', as opposed to 'sit thinking' or, more likely, 'sit staring at your phone'?

I tried to do it the other day, while killing some time before picking up my daughter. I left my phone in my pocket, so I succeeded in avoiding that last one, but I found it almost impossible not to have the brain churning over my to-do list while I watched the world go by. 

Perhaps it is the modern malaise that we are destined to be 'always on'.

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'Likes' are worthless. It's time to get real.

'Likes' are worthless. It's time to get real.

By now you’ve probably heard the story of Essena O’Neill, who made headlines after very publicly ‘outing’ herself as having been paid for numerous posts to Instagram, Youtube and other sites. After building up a base of over half a million followers on Instagram – a dream for many Instagrammers young and old – she has now left it all behind.

Essena’s story touched a nerve for many. Even for those of us who are much older, much less attractive and much less likely to attract the attention of potential sponsors, there is something alluring about being ‘liked’ on social media. I count my own Instagram following in the tens rather than thousands, but I still enjoy it when a picture I post gets noticed. I also can’t help but feel a little miffed when another photographer posts what I think is a mediocre image and it is ‘liked’ by hundreds or even thousands.

The problem with all this is that we (by which I mean those of us who have a blog or post to social media sites) have started to equate the level of attention we manage to garner as an end in itself. When – as Essena obviously worked out – it simply isn’t.

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