“Sometimes they can hardly tell who wrote which word, who shaped with sentence. It doesn’t matter. …Months later, she holds a bound book, breathes in paper like a bouquet, strokes the cover, smooth as petals, around her mother’s name: Laura Ingalls Wilder. ‘It’s all yours,’ Rose says, though every sentence was touched by both mother and daughter.”
I loved the Little House books, and still do in spite of how I came to learn that Laura didn’t write them. As a lonely shy kid I buried my nose in all eight of those books, one after another, until Laura’s life in the Big Woods and on the Prairie became my fantasy life.
So when I discovered the new nonfiction book, Borrowed Names, I couldn’t resist picking it up–and I couldn’t put it down. Rose Wilder Lane’s poetic prose jumps off the page as she tells of her mother’s seemingly perfect life, contrasting with her own life’s disappointments. My two takeaways are these: that mother-daughter angst is the same power struggle all daughters experience through the ages, and that I have no less passion about the Little House books after hearing how Rose tweaked and edited, embellished and refined.
That’s because Rose knew her mom so well, and was as familiar with the lore of Laura’s childhood as if she had lived it herself. That’s what you have to do to ghostwrite for someone else. In my own career I’ve had to get into the heads of news anchors, CEOs, speakers and bloggers. It’s one of my favorite ways to write!
Ghostwriting for others takes a listening ear and a willingness to disappear. You have to know how they speak, how they think and what they care the most about. In the end you have to remove every ounce of your own style and personality so that the subject can shine, and the reader feels a personal connection.
Know who else Rose Wilder Lane wrote for? Henry Ford.
Borrowed Names also includes the writings of Madam C. J. Walker and Marie Curie, in the words of their daughters.