In the final part of my interview with Gabriël Oosthuizen, we delve a little deeper into his experience as a ghostwriter, writing apprehension, and how those experiences tie with his development as a writer. If you've not read the two previous parts of this interview, I highly suggest doing so!
For people who asked for more details on my first experience working with him, I knew as soon as I saw his communication style and outline that the work that we were going to turn out was going to be high quality. The project was science fiction, and there was a lot of strong intent behind it. We weren't looking at a dystopia. We were looking at different worlds, new adventures, and different layers of meaning. I distinctly remember that the majority of our discussions, as we were developing the text, were about making meaning and setting intentions. It feels like that was a valuable experience for the both of us. I've loved sharing this conversation with all of you and I hope that you get as much insight from it as I have!
Where do you think that any writing apprehension that you have comes from?
I think imposter syndrome is sometimes really a thing for me. It always comes back to what I would expect of myself as a writer, if I am doing something for myself as opposed to doing something for someone else. It's a weird mindset, and I think for any ghostwriter it is. You're doing the writing itself, but you're writing with a voice of another person. So, immediately there's a dissociation there, and you have to guess what it is. You are writing this, it's not you, it's someone else, but yet it is you. It's a weird metacognition thing, a reflective space to be in. I think, in that confusion, imposter syndrome comes in, especially in rereading the stuff you've written.
You ask yourself the question, "Is this the best I could have done?"
It's a very harsh question to ask yourself, but to me personally, it comes often, and even more so if that immediately follows those days where the writing hasn't come as easily or as naturally. You just don't...you don't get the scene or you just don't get your character on that day. Suddenly, you kind of lose a bit of confidence.
I think that's where the mindfulness is so important, just to channel back into who you are and accept what you could do and couldn't do what you could control and couldn't control. I think, in that moment that you're floundering, the apprehension sets in and you know what you're supposed to be doing. You're there, you know, you're really trying, but it's just not happening.
I think this is for all creatives. Creativity is not an on and off switch. It's very much you gradually stepping into it, and you can exit abruptly but it's better to exit gradually. You have those last reflective thoughts and you step back into the real world. Then, you're always connected to [the literary world] as opposed to the experience of a dropped stop, an interruption or disruption. When you are faced with that space where you're floundering, where it's just not happening for you, and you just expect creativity to come. You think it's a skill that you need to utilize right now, but it isn't, it's it's a very ethereal kind of quality to tap into. It's wonderful when it works, but it's also very hard to master. Sometimes, I think everybody who is a creative struggles with those. For me, personally, writing apprehension, where I come from, is when I can't tap into that creativity as easily as I think I should be capable of doing.
When you're going back and you're reviewing your own works that are in someone else's voice, do you take to heart that you created the best parts of it?
Yes, but I don't think that on the same day that I wrote it. I think that's where the distance really plays an important role. The stepping away, and then coming back and just having discarded any negative emotions that you might have had in that moment, any thought processes, and just starting clean. In a way you suddenly have an objective view. I mean, it's still you who wrote it, but you just look at it from an objective point of view because there's some distance. Things have happened since the last time you wrote this, and it becomes easier to accept what's on the page. Yes, we need to read and see it's not that bad. It's actually good. It works now that I see this and now that I'm sort of new to this again. It's needed, it's that distance and just that separation from the product of your creativity for a while, and then getting back into it. Sometimes you're even bored of what you write. Luckily, that doesn't happen as often as you might think.
Even people that we consider to be professional writers might still see themselves as developing and navigating spaces like what you've described. What's something that you would advise them to do?
Actually, become a ghostwriter. It's strange. I would. Okay, it depends on who we classify as ghostwriters. They could be professional writers as well. I think it's about doing something that isn't for yourself. There's a layer of subjectivity that you take away that actually opens what you can do and what you're capable of doing because it's usually not blocked by your own emotional viewpoints. That's because you know it's not for yourself, it's for someone else.
Therefore, it's maybe for a certain direction, or there's a certain intention for this product that is not personally tied to you. Immediately, I think you drop a sense of egocentrism to a degree. It's still there, but I think, to a degree at least, when I realize this is going to come across as believable to an audience that isn't mine, then I need to look at it from the viewpoint of this other person who it is written for.
You just climb out of the cell for a bit, you're less self-centered, you're less egocentric. I think you're open to a space of learning, in a way, because you're exposed to different and diverse viewpoints that you're really trying to get into because you're creating a product based on that viewpoint. It'll be interesting to see what would happen if I become a professional writer, professional in the sense that I'm writing material for myself that I attach my name to, and how I would think about it then. For now, that seems to me to be a logical thing that someone could try, writing something for someone else. Meaning, it's not addressed to someone else, but as if they were someone else. A bit of dramatization, if you will. Not me, but someone else's face you put on. Just explore your capabilities.
Maybe even do something like Inktober, like, be very chaotic, work on a prompt for which you have no idea how you're going to approach it, but you know this is what you need to use. Just accept that and see what you can do with it. You do this instead of having nurtured this idea for days, weeks and months, becoming so invested, and making it so personal that you can't detach and step away from it. You approach something very novel and new and see what your talents can do with it. I think that's what I would suggest.
Do you seek to apply more of that in your own work?
Like I said, I think it will be interesting to see, I haven't written anything for myself in a while. I should, it's actually something I should be doing. I've been removed from that space, which is why I have this need to do something like Inktober or NaNoWriMo again, where you know, you're committed to doing something for yourself and writing something that you wanted to write your own ideas for you. You're just seeing how you work in that chaotic space again, and just something that you're not so attached to, but that you can do and then step away from, because not everything hinges on this one piece of work. Although you are proud of it, you did put a lot of effort and time into it. You can, after it's done, also slip away and say you've done this, but be comfortable enough to move on if that makes sense.
Do you have any final thoughts, anything you want to put out there?
It's strange, it feels like there should be. I think it goes back to the last comment I made. I think that a lot of the self-criticism that comes with being a writer, especially those harsh comments that you reserve for yourself because you hold yourself up to this expectation of doing better or being better.
I think it comes down to your attachment with the work and your investment, so it's a very raw and emotional and primal thing to a degree, and I think one solution to a lot of that and what might resolve many of these feelings is actually learning to let go. I do come back to this whole thing of being a ghostwriter. It's just been a very formative experience for me. You are the one who wrote this. It isn't yours. You're giving it to someone else. I think it's a very liberating thing for yourself as well, if you're able to start doing that comfortably.
You can say, "Yes, I did invest a lot in this. Now, I can recreate this." Now, I can recreate the energy that was needed for this product because it came from me and I control what I can do. So, I'm comfortable giving it to someone else because that's what it was intended for, and letting go and accepting that this is what I've done and it's not necessarily the last time that I will be doing this.
I think the same goes for the liberation of ideas. I think, as writers, we all have these ideas that we desperately cling onto. It's just so good, we've entertained them for years and years and we've always wanted to write about them. I think, around 99% of those ideas, we never get around to writing about them at all. I think it's just liberating to test it out in, maybe, something that's not even meant for yourself and seeing whether it works. If you're able to comfortably do that and let it go, then maybe that idea wasn't nearly as important to you as you thought. In a way, it's unloading a burden if you can learn to let go and accept. I think, maybe, that comes back to mindfulness.
If ever I was asked to do a webinar about writing fiction, I would definitely include that idea. All these ideas that you have that are yours, don't be afraid to give them to someone else and let it go because it will show you how important those ideas are to you. Maybe, it will make space for cultivating better ideas, more important ideas, and maybe even ideas that are more in line with the person you are now as opposed to the person you were when you first had the idea.
Thank you so much to Gabriël Oosthuizen for having this conversation with me! This was a wonderful experience and I am so grateful that The Urban Writers has connected us.
Thank you, also, to all readers of Purposeful Prose. If you would like to receive updates on future posts or comment and interact on my posts and forum, it's not too late to become a member!
If you have any suggestions as to what you would like to see covered in this blog, please do let me know. I'm happy to announce that this isn't my final collaboration with my wonderful colleagues at The Urban Writers. There is a lot more in the works!
As always, I look forward to hearing your thoughts!