Is ghostwriting stifling your creative voice?

Letting the truth get in the way

Guest post by Carly Bush

One July day in my early teens, while attending camp in the sleepy prairies outside of Calgary, Alberta, I heard an old proverb that changed my life as a writer. I was certain that it was invaluable advice worth holding close to my heart, the North Star that would someday lead me to finding my true voice:

"Never let the truth get in the way of a good story."

Back then, I wasn't a professional writer. I filled notebook upon notebook as well as my laptop with half-finished fictional short stories, but I wasn't making money doing it. It's easier, in a way, to accept a challenge when there's no financial pressure. The idea that it was permissible to lie in order to better tell a story was liberating.

As I grew both in age and creative experience, I lost sight of my truth. I didn't expect ghostwriting to be the catalyst to help me find it again. But it was.

There's an old proverb that says to never let the truth get in the way of a good story. But what about when it's your job to lie in order to tell a story? Ghostwriting for clients was the catalyst to help this writer find her truth again and recapture her voice.

I stumbled into ghostwriting as a practical decision: I needed money, and this was a goldmine of an opportunity. My first paid ghostwriting gigs were blogs and short-form articles. I developed copy for brands and learned how to write persuasively, adopting a more active rather than subversive approach.

The idea that it was permissible to lie in order to better tell a story was liberating.

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Before long, I was copyediting novel manuscripts, writing short film scripts, providing extensive developmental editing on non-fiction books, such as Vladimir Francois's Broken Knowledge, and developing treatments for music videos.

Every project was unique, and there was never a dull moment. Through ghostwriting, I learned how to silence the quiet whisper of my own voice and focus on bringing out others' stellar potential instead.

But after a while, this sacrifice started to feel too much like censorship for my liking. Don't get me wrong -- I love my clients. I love seeing the light in their eyes when I bring their deeply personal ideas to life. I love the anonymity of pseudonyms. I appreciate the freedom this job offers me.

But somewhere along the line, in the process of helping others tell their stories, I began to forget there had once been a time when I had stories of my own to tell. "Never let the truth get in the way of a good story" no longer made sense to me because I no longer knew what my truth was.

Last fall, a mentor told me I would never reach all of my personal goals without finding my voice again. She said that if I didn't work harder at developing a voice, I would continue rationalizing why I should hide in the shadows.

I knew this, deep down. I knew working behind the scenes had become an excuse not to break out of my comfort zone.

My initial promises to myself looked like this:

  • I would start using social media more effectively.
  • I would find my tribe of like-minded writers.
  • I would narrow down a list of publications I liked and wanted to submit my creative work to.

And then, hopefully, if all went well, I would start to make a name for myself.

I tried to recall what writing as myself used to feel like for me, how easy it used to be to unquestioningly lose myself to the creative process. I tried to remember the days before I was plagued by imposter syndrome and uncertainty. I tried to remember what bravery felt like.

Ten years after first hearing that proverb, the simple instruction giving permission to break the rules, I am starting to find my truth again. I see now that there's room for everyone in the writing community that once intimidated me. I've made considerable moves in the right direction, such as being published in some of my favorite magazines, sending out cold pitches to others and narrowing my social media circle to strictly positive influences.

I see now that there's room for everyone in the writing community that once intimidated me.

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My advice to anyone struggling to find their truth is this: Think about what keeps you awake at night. Think about the ideas that haunt you, trail you even when you doubt they could have commercial appeal.

What speaks to you? Figure that out, and the rest will follow.

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About Carly Bush
Carly Bush is a freelance writer and editor from southern Ontario, Canada. Since 2013, she has been ghostwriting for clients across a wide range of industries in North America. As an expansion of this business, she founded Inflorescence Creative Development in 2016. Her work has been published in Spindle Magazine, Deep Nerd Magazine, Upwrite Magazine, Vérité Published and more. After a few years of diligent work behind the scenes, she is hoping to begin establishing and expressing her own unique creative voice.