It’s strange, the ways in which life surprises you. There’s a line I love from a Grateful Dead song called “Scarlet Begonias.” It goes:
Once in a while, you get shown the light, in the strangest of places, if you look at it right.
Man, right? That frickin’ line. We have to stay open. We have to let life surprise us, allow us to shine its light where it may.
For 16 years, I worked full-time as a ghostwriter. A ghostwriter, for the uninitiated, is a writer who writes material for other people who put their name on the final product. It’s their content; it’s your form. I never had an ethical problem with the work. Quite the contrary, I never felt comfortable taking the credit, as the concepts and ideas weren’t my own; they were the client’s. But I digress…
I did that job every day for 16 years (I still do it nowadays, boutique-style, for a small handful of select clients). For all those years, I was deep in it, daily, attending to microscopic details. Making deliveries. Making corrections. Getting it all just right.
And lunkhead that I am, it never occurred to me in all that time that I wasn’t really working as a ghostwriter; I was working as a psychic.
Think about it. The clients had material to express. They could give it to me in a myriad of ways: notes, outlines, phone calls, face-to-face meetings. I’d take that raw material and use it to craft something professional. If it was a book, it had to be of publishable quality. A script: produce-able. Speech: presentable. They brought the ingredients; I cooked the meal. They brought the notes; I made the music.
And no matter who they were, no matter the specific nature of their material, I always found myself dialing in on one key component:
I was obsessed with identifying the correct emotion. That became my specialty, my stock in trade. So much so that on our company’s website, we even set ourselves apart from the competition by saying we’d (I’d) capture the EMOTION of their project. It’s a strange thing to market; it’s immaterial, abstract. I’d tell prospects on the phone that I’d be using my best intuition.
But time and time again, it worked. The proof was in the pudding. They didn’t see the results; they felt them.
How did this happen? There aren’t just several emotions. It’s not like I spun a wheel that landed on Happy, Sad, or Afraid. No, there are millions of emotions. Emotions are as varied as human beings. Every book you’ve ever read, every film you’ve ever watched – there’s a specific emotional, vibratory note emanating from it, which is the specific emotional intonation of the artist or artists who created it. It’s more than mere “tone,” though. It moves, it’s active.
And time and time again, I captured it. I couldn’t prove it. Neither could the client. But they’d call me saying, “Yes! That’s exactly what I wanted to say, but I couldn’t say it.”
They didn’t mean the mere words, some of which they’d no doubt provided. They meant the totality; the whole of how it went down; how the thing actually felt.
You know who didn’t like my work? People who feared emotion. Interestingly, this happened time and time again on science-fiction projects. I’d be crying while writing certain scenes, and those would be the first scenes they wanted to cut out. They deemed it silly. They were emotionally arrested dweebs.
All those years, I didn’t realize what was going on. I thought I was just a writer. I thought I was just interested in how things felt. I thought I was good at guessing at the client’s inner texture, the interior emotional state they sought to express. But how did I know that one speech client wanted witty humor while another wanted silly humor? How did I know that one Father of the Bride wanted the whole room crying with joy, while another wanted the whole room crying with nostalgia? The clients rarely could tell me these things directly; if they could, they wouldn’t have sought my services to begin with.
Later on, as my psychic abilities came online, I started doing free readings for friends and family. While practicing, I realized that I was doing exactly what I’d done while interviewing ghostwriting clients to tap into their projects’ substance: I was feeling into them, “reading” them, picking up on their vibe. Then as I went deeper into readings, I picked up more. Picked up people’s pasts, picked up their futures.
Then I realized I wasn’t a ghostwriter after all.