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Post-Halloween Post

[A note of apology: Ideally this should have been a Halloween-themed post, but the spirit didn't move me until this week.]

Sun silhouetting leaves against orange sky
Photo by Ant Rozetsky on Unsplash

As the waning year turns cold and spooky, here are three creepy terms from the world of writing: ghostwriter, extra pair of eyes, invisible prose.

A ghostwriter is someone hired to write a book, story, article, blog post, review, or anything that will be credited to someone else. This arrangement happens because the "author" who gets the ultimate credit might not have the time or skills to actually create the work with his/her own hand. What, you thought that all of those politicians, entertainers, and other public figures actually had the time and the chops to write all those best-selling works? If you see someone listed as "creative consultant" or "developmental editor," or maybe thanked in the book's dedication for no specific reason, chances are that's the ghostwriter. S/he might not even get a mention at all, but as long as s/he was paid adequately for services rendered, hey, that's business.

Now what about that extra pair of eyes? No, Igor didn't find them floating in a specimen jar down in the crypt. That's just a cute way of saying that writing anything is an extremely subjective process, and that it's really challenging for most people to edit their own work. Bring in an outsider, someone who doesn't share your emotional attachment to what you just wrote, and you'll hear whether you're getting your message across effectively, whether your language stirs passion or invites eye-rolls, and whether your punctuation is as standard as you thought. A good proofreader/editor will care enough about what you're saying to help you say it in the best way possible. Nothing creepy about that. It's actually kind of noble, don't you think?

Finally, let's look at invisible prose. Yes, we really can look at it, because it's quite visible. We have to see the words in order to read them. What this term refers to is language that doesn't call attention to itself. It's an approach to the written word that serves as the shortest possible distance between the author's intention and the reader's understanding. Ernest Hemingway called it the "iceberg theory," suggesting that what you see is only the smallest tip of something massive. Indeed, compare Hemingway to other 20th-century writers like the vividly poetic Ray Bradbury or the linguistically sculptural Jack Kerouac for a sense of what invisible prose does and doesn't look like. (I hasten to mention that Bradbury and Kerouac are exemplars of other literary qualities that we're not discussing here.) In a purely functional sense, invisible prose is what most journalists strive to create. They want us to think as much as possible about the information they're conveying and as little as possible as about the words and sentences they're using.

As someone who works and plays with language all the time, I'm always noticing the odd terms in common use. Here are a few more: requesting to borrow someone for a minute, asking if you can pick their brain, and knowing where the bodies are buried as a good thing -- but we can talk about these in another post. (And I have a lot more to say about ghostwriting, the place where I was headed before getting lost on this amusing tangent.)

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