Listen! A Ghostwriter Hears — and then Really Hears


There is a poem I remember reading in a prayer book:


What does it really mean to “hear”?

The person who attends a concert with a mind on business,

Hears — but does not really hear.

The person who walks amid the songs of birds

And thinks only of what will be served for dinner,

Hears — but does not really hear. …

The one who listens to the words of a friend

And does not catch the note of urgency:

“Notice me, help me, care about me,”

Hears — but does not really hear.

—from “Listen!” by Jack Riemer and Harold Kushner


Ghostwriters would be wise to remember this prayer when working with a client. Specifically, we are being reminded to engage in active listening.

Active listening is really hearing what a speaker says and responding appropriately. It goes beyond the mere words and focuses on the mood, tone, and emotion of what the person says. 

It’s done in four stages: receiving, understanding, evaluating, and responding.

Receiving is part of listening. We hear the words and the sounds, the tone, mood and emotion behind the words.

Understanding is realizing what the speaker means by the words and sounds used.

Evaluating is figuring out the underlying message behind the words and sounds used.

Responding is choosing the words and sounds to say back to the speaker.

When I’m ghostwriting a memoir, I find it extremely important to actively listen because the story the client is telling me is not only emotional, it can be uncomfortable.

Here’s a real-life example: I had to interview the wife of a Philadelphia-area schoolteacher who suffered a mysterious heart ailment and was in a coma. The wife had been told that her husband wasn’t going to awaken and that she should get his affairs in order. She refused to pull the plug, and he woke up after 16 days. Later, he fully recovered.

She didn’t want to be interviewed, so I had to treat her very gently. I received her message: I’m uncomfortable. I don’t want to do this. I understood that she meant I’m scared. I evaluated her underlying message: I don’t want to have to feel those feelings again, and talking to you brings them up.

I came up with this response: “I know you don’t want to do this, and that you’re only doing this as a favor to your husband. I understand, and I really appreciate you taking the time because your help makes your husband’s story that much more compelling. What can I do to help make this easier for you?”

We ended up having an hourlong conversation in which I protected her from the most painful emotions buy simply asking her to verify what her husband had previously told me about what she thought, said, and felt. That worked for her.

This example demonstrates how active listening determines the kind of response that’s needed. It also shows the importance of having open and honest communication. Both sides must make it clear what they’re feeling, and why. Then both sides can treat the matter, the information, and the other person with the proper amount of care, decency, tact, and respect.

Another time, an owner of an indoor golf training facility inquired about my services. His people made it clear that they wanted a ghostwriter to help craft his memoir. In discussions, active listening caused me to hear that they needed somebody who understood golf and the nature of the relationship between golfer and coach. A ghostwriter acts as a coach, so the relationship between an author and a ghostwriter is exactly the same as that between a successful golfer and his caddy. I made it perfectly clear that was how we would work together.

A successful ghostwriter will hear, and then really hear. Contact me today to work with a professional ghostwriter in Tucson, AZ.

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