When you work as a freelance writer, you need to be able to turn on a dime in terms of style. Like a yogi or yogini, you are required to stretch yourself regularly and assume all sorts of new positions. One day, you might have a deadline on an academic journal article in which you need to observe a strictly formal style. The next day, your assignment may be a short blog post for an entertainment website; now you have to flex in a different direction, writing in a relaxed, conversational tone. Challenging to say the least– and one of many indications that flexibility is as important for freelance writers as it is for yoga devotees.
Some writers’ writing voices are naturally informal; the reader almost feels as if the author is in the room and having a conversation with her. At the other end of the spectrum are those whose voices are naturally academic or what some might call “highbrow.” Most fall somewhere along the spectrum between these two poles.
It’s an open question among writers how much writing should mimic speech in any given forum. The real “Master Yogis” of the writing world are the ones who manage to sound conversational (where appropriate) while sticking to all the rules of English grammar, spelling and usage. These pros understand that the secret of coming across as both accessible and professional lies in skillfully combining an informal style with flawless grammar– no easy task!
Not many people speak in sentences that could be transcribed word for word and used in an article or blog post without some editing. You might say, “No one’s grammar is perfect when they’re having a conversation– they have to make some changes when they put the words on paper.” If you’re expressing that thought in writing for an academic audience, you’d have to stretch one way and write something like, “Few people observe strict grammatical rules in colloquial speech; expressing the same ideas in print, they need to make the necessary adjustments to fit the new forum.”
But what if you have to express that same idea in a highly colloquial setting, such as an entertainment or fashion blog? Here comes the next “verbal asana”– something along the lines of, “Hey, not many of us are walking English textbooks, right? We’ve got to make some changes when we write things down!” Both of these examples are grammatically correct; neither is “right” or “wrong.” The important thing is that readers of either one would clearly understand the idea. It would be jarring to mix them up, of course– kind of like trying to force an asana into a series where it doesn’t belong.
My own writing voice tends toward the formal end of the spectrum; other writers have much more colloquial (informal) voices. Again, it’s not a question of right or wrong, but of style. The essential thing for the freelance writer–just like the yoga practitioner–is the ability to adapt, to be flexible. Very few of us work for a single client or even the same kind of client all the time, so a good deal of style-switching is necessary.
But none of this quite takes into consideration the unique degree of flex required of the ghostwriter. Ghostwriters are hired to tell another person’s story in that person’s words. To succeed at this, ghostwriters have to carefully read all their clients’ correspondence and listen closely to their patterns of speech. This is because the stakes are higher here: it’s the client’s story, and people who know them personally have to be able to imagine that person writing the article or book themselves. If this doesn’t happen, the ghostwriter has failed at his most important task. If words and phrases that the client would never use in a million years start cropping up, people who know the person are won’t be able to see the story as theirs. Those of us who work occasionally as “ghosts” have to develop an even greater degree of flexibility than when we write in our own voices.
William K. Ferro