The Writing Partner and the Police Sketch Artist

May 4, 2015 | Everything Else

There’s one critical skill that’s often left out discussions about whether to hire a ghostwriter and what skills to look for.

Ghostwriter: the basic definition

Wikipedia says that a ghostwriter is:

“a writer who authors books, manuscripts, screenplays, scripts, articles, blog posts, stories, reports, whitepapers, or other texts that are officially credited to another person.”

That seems simple enough. But there are different kinds of ghostwriters and we do different kinds of things.

That definition covers a lot of ground

Some ghostwriters will take your notes or transcripts of your speeches and turn them into a serviceable book. Some will take your core ideas and research and turn them into a book or a white paper or blog posts or a speech. Other ghostwriters, like me, work as your writing partner.

We help with research and we help organize your book. Often the fingers on the keys belong to us when the writing needs to get done.

Many ghostwriters bring business experience to the project. Because I’ve been a manager and a business owner I’ve usually got some hands-on experience with the subject of a client’s book. And I’m familiar with many different industries and audiences from my experience as a consultant and speaker.

But there’s one key skill that many successful ghostwriters have but that hardly anyone talks or writes about. It’s the skill we have in common with a good police sketch artist.

What great police sketch artists do

Police sketch artists (often called forensic artists) draw pictures of people based on the description they get from witnesses or victims of crimes. The pictures they produce are used to help apprehend criminals. They’re also shown to victims of other crimes to see if the person responsible for one crime might have committed others.

What ghostwriters have in common with police sketch artists

On her blog, Ask a Forensic Artist, Lisa Bailey answers the question: “How can police sketch artists draw what another person saw?” this way.

“Whenever I hear this question, I always have to think back to years ago when I was doing graphic art work, and didn’t know a thing about forensic art. Or, the only things I knew about forensic art was what I learned from TV, and we all know how reliable that is. Back then I looked on it in wonder…those artists must be psychic! They must have special powers. They must know things that I’ll never, ever be able to know in a million years.

The reality is, of course, a bit different. It’s not magic: it’s years of experience, solid training, solid drawings skills, listening skills, people skills, and procedure.”

For a forensic artist, drawing skills are table stakes. In fact, today much of the “drawing” happens on computer. For a ghostwriter, good writing skills are table stakes.

But for both, the ability to get the idea that the crime victim or ghostwriting client has in their head and represent it accurately is the key skill. As Lisa Bailey says it’s the technical stuff, but it’s also “listening skills, people skills, and procedure.”