The Ethics of Ghostwriting

Ghostwriting is the act of creating written material that will appear attributed to someone other than the actual author. This method of creating content places value of name over mastery of penmanship. It is inauthentic and misleading. Writing is a deeply personal act. It requires simultaneous orchestration of two persistent thoughts – what to put in and what to leave out. It’s a play of social maneuvering at its most sophisticated. And that may just be part of the reason that people choose to hire ghostwriters instead of do the work themselves.

Writing is highly revelatory of the author. Deeply-ingrained beliefs and insecurities inevitably leak out onto the page. The author may not even be able to perceive the very things he is revealing to his readers. The study of intentions and underlying psychological potency in writing is the dual-speak. In a written selection, there is both the text itself and all of the thoughts of the reader as he perceives the text. Those seeking ghostwriters may seek to mask conveyance of aspects of themselves that they want to hide, much like Dr. Jekyll kept up the appearance of being morally pristine, while relegating his unsightly traits to Mr. Hyde.

mountain photo by Jake Sloop

Ghostwriting is not ethical because the individual receiving the attribution provides an alternative version of himself that does not come from him. Yet he claims the words as his own. Additionally, readers cannot properly determine whether or not the text was indeed ghostwritten. And thus far, it is not a requirement to disclose this. With the amount of ghostwriting jobs available in the freelance community, it’s easy to see that ghostwriting has become a norm. It is not frowned upon, and often the excuse for seeking a ghostwriter is that the individual does not have enough time, or they do not have the natural ability for writing. I have spoken previously about the invalidity of the time argument. As for the propensity of some towards writing better than others, I think this is a fallacy that we wrangle en-masse.

Ghostwriting wrangles with authenticity, souring the landscape of authorship.

The words of some of those we look up to are not their own. Ghostwriting allows that the name of the author is more important and relevant than the material itself. Sticking a specific name on the writing of another shows that we value name over content, when it comes down to it. The underlying networks of publication ensure that names are well represented and that they appear often enough in print so as not to become irrelevant. Ghostwriters are people like me, who have no weight to their names yet are capable of writing in a particular preferred manner. The ethics of ghostwriting point to a clear portion in our culture – authorship is not equivalent to text. This means that associating material with the individual attributed as author rests shaky ground. We simply cannot be sure of the true wordsmith.

The implication of questioning the ethics of ghostwriting are vast, but are not likely to be addressed on a larger scale for quite some years. We currently live in a media age that prefers quantity to quality, as I have previously pointed out. So it will continue to be important to those developing personal branding around their names to use ghostwriters for some or all of their content needs. Their commitment to creating a quota of content has placed them into perhaps a seemingly unavoidable situation that requires them to seek beyond themselves for help with producing at such volume. We gain from this quota, consistency, and branding a shell of an individual. Authorship is not directly representative.

mountains photo by Colton Brown

Authorship has not always existed as it does now. At times in history, it was used in assigning accountability to the content disbursed to the people. Authorship was connoted with taking responsibility¬† and pride in the workings of language, art, and ideas. It starts now on more disbursed grounds, with people more readily publicly excusing themselves for past text. Highly-branded individuals release overly-formulated and sanitized statements. These hardly convey personality, and rarely appear untouched by ghostwriting. Language has hit a state of normalization, and part of the issue with it is in ghostwriting. Inauthenticity as a prime argument against ghostwriting stands with the belief that a person’s words hold importance.

We need to look past the levity of names attributed as author and assign more weight to the authentic representation of content as it relates to true authorship. This industry of ghostwriting may well have been born out of the new age of personal brand. And this is ironic in itself, because the purpose of personal branding is to represent individuality. However, readers may be more concerned with material that is approved by the branded individual and less concerned with whether or not the individual sat to write down his or her own thoughts.