My wife Krista recently told me about an interview she had heard on NPR’s “Fresh Air” with J.R. Moehringer, the ghostwriter of Andre Agassi’s memoir “Open.” He had been commenting on his experience during the collaboration process with one of the biggest names in tennis. “It sounded just like you and what happens with you and your clients!” Krista said.
So I read the transcript of the interview, which gets to the book about Agassi near the end:
I laughed. I nodded my head. And as I remembered many of my own ghostwriting clients from recent times and years gone by, I smiled and felt a wave of gratitude and appreciation for what I have witnessed and experienced in helping people tell their life stories in memoirs and autobiographies.
“It worked like therapy,” observed Moehringer, who at one point got so concerned about “playing” the role of therapist that he started reading Freud and Jung so he wouldn’t take Agassi too deep or too far. Agassi assured him that he needn’t worry, that in fact he was receiving just what he had hoped for in seeking a biographer: someone to help him make sense of the stories of his life and find the truths inside them. Moehringer was doing his part to make that happen, not through any psychological expertise but simply by listening, by asking the rights kinds of questions, by being curious, and always present.
That’s how it’s worked for me with many of my ghostwriting clients. As a former journalist, I have a solid foundation in asking questions and staying curious. I also happen to have a background in counseling, with training in Psychosynthesis, a holistic and spiritual approach to personal growth and therapy founded by Roberto Assagiolo, who shared many of Jung’s beliefs. So I have a deep respect for and an understanding of the places that people visit when they begin to share meaningful stories about their lives, and I’m quite at home when their exploration may lead them to important discoveries or moments of healing. Like Moehringer, I know I am not in any professional way serving as their therapist when I interview autobiographical ghostwriting clients for hours and hours – that is not what I have been hired to do. But I also recognize that something therapeutic may well be happening for my clients just by what we’re doing together. Some of them acknowledge this unexpected benefit of telling their life story. Others may simply show it with a facial expression, or some new insight into their life, or a changed outlook or perspective. I’m often touched just to be there.
The desire to write your life story often comes from an urge to relive something important, meaningful, and perhaps dramatic or even traumatic. The motivation is often to help support, encourage and inspire others in facing comparable life challenges. In 15 years as a personal historian and memoir ghostwriter, as well as a life story book writing coach and a teacher of Writing Your Life Story classes, I’ve attracted many clients willing and often eager to share what some of us would consider things too hard to discuss: the loss of a spouse or a child, overcoming sexual abuse, battling a life-threatening disease or condition, spending time in jail, coming back from the brink of suicide, clawing a path out of addiction.
Yes, I’ve witnessed many tearful moments in the recounting of those experiences. And as a ghostwriter committed to “getting inside the skin” of those telling their life story, I often feel those deep feelings too. Yet, I’ve also been privileged to hear and see the other side: pride in what they have risen above, a commitment to help others, a reverence for the gift of life and the mysterious journey we all share. When the book collaboration process is finished, I find myself thinking that there can’t be anything more life-affirming. I am indeed very fortunate to do what I do.
I don’t worry about whether it “worked like therapy,” as Andre Agassi’s biographer put it. As a memoir and autobiography ghostwriter, I just savor the experience of being along for the ride.
– Kevin Quirk, former journalist and counselor, has been helping people of all ages and backgrounds tell the most important and meaningful stories of their lives as a memoir and autobiography ghostwriter for 15 years.