Wednesday, October 20, 2010

In Defense of Ghostwriting...

Justin Bieber is getting a lot of flak for writing his memoirs at 16. Not only is it difficult to buy that a 16-year-old could have enough to say to fill twenty pages, never mind a book, but it’s just as hard—primarily
for writers who have been struggling for years to have their own work published—to see “Bieber” and “write” and “book” and “published” in the same sentence. Not because he’s not capable of writing a book—maybe he is, maybe he isn’t—but because we all know what he does, and it’s not writing. He sings. He performs. He does talk shows and guest appearances on “Saturday Night Live.” Who has time to write with that kind of schedule?

“He’ll probably have a ghost writer,” writers who write their own work scoff.

Yes. He probably will.

But that’s because he’s not a writer. He’s a singer. A performer. A teenage kid who blasted into fame when his YouTube video became a sensation. He's also someone with a story to tell.

Now, I’m not here to defend ghost-written fiction, because—a writer, myself—I can’t see that as anything but cheating. Writing fiction is like singing a song—the voice should be that of the artist whose name appears under the title of the work. In fact, it’s safe to say ghost-written fiction is the literary equivalent of Milli Vanilli. (You remember Milli Vanilli, don’t you?)

But ghost-written non-fiction is entirely different, because the focus of the finished product is rarely, if ever, the writing itself (unless it’s very bad). The focus is the subject, whether that subject is a person or a person’s singular experience. The story isn’t being created by someone else who will then take credit for the work—the story already exists. The ghost-writer simply acts as a conduit to deliver that story to the people who want to hear it or who’ll benefit from it.

I’ll admit it. I was one of those scoffing writers when I heard about the impending publication of Justin Bieber’s memoirs. Part of me thought it was ridiculous that a teenager had a memoir to write, and the other was reacting to what I viewed as the unfairness of it all (“I’ve been writing for close to twenty years and I can’t sell a novel, but this 16-year-old singing boy wonder gets a deal with HarperCollins?”). In fact, it wasn’t until I reached the mid-point of this blog post that I started to find myself on Justin Bieber’s side.

He’s 16. Yes. And when most of us remember being sixteen, we think, “What’s he going to write about, his first zit? What it’s like to be grounded? When he got his first bike?” We think those things because  that’s all most of us had experienced by 16. But Justin Bieber isn’t like the rest of us. His life has been completely altered by his sudden fame, and most of us can’t begin to imagine how that might affect a teenager’s everyday life. One morning he’s eating Fruity Pebbles in the kitchen before catching the school bus, and the next morning he’s…he’s…well, who knows?

But aren’t you a little bit curious?

Ghost writers bring us the extraordinary experiences of others. There’s a whole lot of life going on that we don’t know about, and even a whole lot more to learn from other people whose powerful or entertaining experiences make fascinating and/or educational reading. Without ghost writers, far too much of the human experience would die with the people who experience it simply because they’re not writers. And, I don’t know, but somehow that just doesn’t seem right.

- Lyla P.

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