Ghostwriting — the art of writing for someone else

One of the new projects I’ve taken on is ghostwriting ‘blog articles for one of my clients. While I have plenty of technical writing experience — where I take a topic or application that isn’t mine and try to write about it — ghostwriting is an entirely new experience for me. Not only is it something new for me to tackle, I’m finding the experience to be interesting, and even fun!

My client maintains a ‘blog as part of his website, and by his own admission, isn’t a prolific writer — which is where I (along with one or two others) come in. I’ve only done a couple of articles for my client so far, but I’m learning a few things as I go along.

  • Keep in mind that it isn’t your article. One thing I need to remember is that even though I’m the one doing the writing, I’m not the one doing the “writing.” Essentially, I’m taking someone else’s thoughts and putting them into an article. (Sounds a lot like technical writing, no?) While I’m putting these thoughts and ideas into words, they are not my thoughts. The intellectual property belongs to my client, not me. As such, I consider the article as being my client’s property.

    I recognize that this can be a potentially slippery slope; by that same token, it could be argued that technical writing could belong to the subject matter expert (SME), not the person writing the documentation. I won’t talk about that here; first, this goes beyond my expertise (maybe someone who knows more about intellectual property law than I do can address this better than I can), and second, this discussion goes beyond the scope of this article.

    As far as I’m concerned, the client has the final say about the article. It’s possible that my client might give me credit for writing it, but that’s up to him. I’m just taking his thoughts and putting them into words.

    Speaking of writing someone else’s thoughts…
  • Writing what someone else is thinking is hard to do! Most people understand how difficult it is to understand another person’s thoughts; after all, that’s what communication is all about. I’m sure most communication professionals are familiar with the Shannon-Weaver communication model. For the benefit of those who aren’t, here’s a quick synopsis: a sender sends a message to a receiver. However, noise breaks down the transmission (note: the noise may not be literally “noise”), so when the receiver receives the message, it is never 100% accurate (and it never will be; the noise is always there. It’s like a mathematical graph; the line approaches, but will never reach, 100%). The receiver sends feedback to the sender (during feedback, the sender and receiver roles are reversed — the feedback becomes the new message), who uses it to adjust the message, and the cycle begins again.

    That communication model becomes magnified when ghostwriting an article because what the receiver — in this case, the ghostwriter — is feeding back to the sender is much, much more precise. A ghostwriter is trying to write on behalf of the client, and the client wants to make sure that what is being written is (1) accurate, and (2) maintains a voice that the client likes. In all likelihood, the client and the ghostwriter will go through several iterations of edits and adjustments.

    This reminds me of another thought…
  • I fully expect that what I write will be changed. Never get too attached to anything that you’re ghostwriting. Any time that I ghostwrite a work, I fully expect it to be different by the time my client and I are finished with it. As adjustments are made between me and my client, what we end up producing may look completely different from what I originally wrote.
  • You’re writing for someone else — but still be yourself. Even though I’m writing someone else’s thoughts, I never think about whether or not my writing “sounds” like the person for whom I’m writing. Thinking about writing in another person’s voice stifles my work and is a huge distraction that destroys my productivity. I write whatever comes naturally to me, and only through the editing process do I start worrying about the article’s voice, when the client starts adjusting the article to his or her liking.

    This thought brings to mind a quote from one of my favorite movies.

“No thinking – that comes later. You must write your first draft with your heart. You rewrite with your head. The first key to writing is… to write, not to think!”

William Forrester (played by Sean Connery), Finding Forrester
  • I’m learning new things! I’ve written before that one of the best ways to learn something is to write about it. Any time that you write about a topic, you end up learning about that topic — sometimes to the point of becoming an SME! Ghostwriting is no different. As I’m writing for my client, I’m learning new things and gaining new perspectives that hadn’t previously occurred to me.
  • I’m gaining new writing experience. I think this might be one of the biggest benefits of ghostwriting. Not only am I gaining additional writing experience, I’m also learning how to do so from another person’s viewpoint. As I mention above, I’m learning new things. I’m also learning how to be a better communicator, as it sharpens my communication skills as I continually feed back with my client. And it also teaches me how to look at things from a different point of view, which is what ghostwriting forces me to do.

I’m discovering that ghostwriting is a rewarding experience. It’s a great way to gain writing experience, and it ultimately makes me a better writer, a better worker, and a better person.

The #Coronavirus chronicles, part 16: Getting a kick in the butt when I need it #COVID19

It’s been a while since I wrote a COVID-19 update, so I think this is Part 16.

This morning, I had a text conversation with a friend who gave me a badly-needed kick in the butt.

A little background information is in order here.

I’m not going to lie. I have been very discouraged by the job hunt (going on nearly three months, now). It seems like every place that I’ve applied has rejected me — to the point that my job hunt morale has taken a big hit. I can count on one hand the number of interviews I’ve had, out of the many dozens (and counting) of applications I’ve submitted. My job situation has been a major source of stress, along with a few other things (that I won’t get into here) that have added to it. The only thing that has kept me going is my LLC. I have a couple of clients that have been keeping me busy, but it’s still not yet enough for me to pay my mortgage. I address acknowledging your own emotions at the beginning of my job hunt presentation, and I, myself, fell into the same trap.

And, of course, I have not been helped by the COVID-19 situation.

My friend — a former co-worker at my previous job — told me, in a nutshell, to get off my duff and get busy again. He reminded me of a few things that, as it turned out, I badly needed to hear: I need to learn new things, I need to keep learning and stay on top of things, I need to keep plugging away, I need to keep working, and possibly the most important reminder: I have the smarts, the talent, and the wherewithal to do great things. Don’t throw that away.

Our conversation reminded me of the many good things I do have going on, and either want to continue doing, or want to restart. My LLC has been a source of professional and educational experience during a time when I badly need it. I’d started a few endeavors during this COVID-19 crisis, including starting my new business, starting a Couch-to-5K program (which has been on-hold lately because of health issues — not COVID-19 related) and teaching myself French. There are some other things that I either started a while ago or in which I’ve been active, but have also fallen by the wayside: teaching myself BI, teaching myself GitHub, and getting back into my music, including my songwriting endeavors. I also want to make sure that I brush up on my development skills that have become rusty over time.

Some people are able to stay strong throughout this crisis (which seems to have no end in sight), while others need an occasional boost. No matter who you are, it’s easy to lose sight of things, and it’s important to have support to keep that going — which includes friends who’ll give you the occasional kick in the butt when you need it. One of the casualties of the COVID-19 crisis is that we’ve been so isolated that we don’t see our friends (other than immediate family within your household) as much as we’d like or need. Your friends are your support system, and good friends will get you back on track when you need it.

So, to my friend with whom I spoke this morning, if you’re reading this, thank you again for that kick in the butt. You likely helped me more than you know.

Whaddaya got to lose? #JobHunt

This morning, one of my LinkedIn contacts (a recruiter for a consulting firm) contacted me about a potential job opportunity. She sent me the description. The position in question is for a senior programmer analyst for a local firm. They’re seeking someone knowledgeable about .NET, XML, and SQL. I gave her a call, and we had a very good conversation about the opportunity. She asked me to tailor my resume to more closely match what the client sought, and that she would do whatever she could to get me in to speak with the client. I also told her to let the client know that if this position was not a good fit, I would also consider other opportunities with the client, if any were available.

These skills do appear on my resume, and I do have experience with these technologies. At the same time, however, I also make no secret that my career seems to be moving away from hardcore technical development and more toward soft-skill professional development that involves communication, writing, and visual design. It’s been at least a couple of years since I did much in the way of serious application development work, so any technical skills that I’ve accumulated over the years are likely to be rusty.

I did mention this as a concern to my recruiter associate, and she told me that she appreciated my honesty and openness. I wanted to make clear that while I do have that experience and background, the client, if by some chance they do hire me, will not be getting a technical guru or expert, and they shouldn’t expect one. What they would get is someone who has the diverse technical skill set who, while not necessarily being an expert in them, knows enough to mostly get by and at be able to sound like he knows what he’s talking about, not to mention someone who’d do his best to make sure things got done.

I mention this because in my current job search, this is the type of position to which I likely would not have applied, had my associate not contacted me. I’ve been applying primarily for technical writer and business analyst positions. That said, I am also open to programmer analyst positions should the right opportunity come along.

I did mention to my contact that I had nothing to lose by applying to this position. If the client decides to talk to me, it’s another potential opportunity to pursue. If not, at least I gave it a shot.

The moral of the story: even if a position doesn’t appear to be what you’re pursuing, if you believe you’re capable of doing it, go ahead and apply for it. You never know. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

July CASSUG Monthly Meeting @CASSUG_Albany #SQLUserGroup #SQLFamily

Greetings, data enthusiasts!

Our July 15 meeting will again be online. NOTE: you MUST RSVP to this Meetup (see instructions below) to view the Zoom URL!

This is our annual July meeting in which we feature lightning talks, and discuss our upcoming SQL Saturday!

Want to do a lightning talk for our July monthly meeting? Contact Greg Moore at mooregr@greenms.com by July 8!

Lightning talks should be around 10 to 15 minutes in length. It can be about any topic that appeals to data professionals, including (but not limited to) T-SQL, performance tuning, BI, tools, and professional development. New and novice speakers are especially welcome and encouraged to apply!

Our online meeting schedule is as follows:
6:00: General chat, discussion, and announcements
6:30: Presentation

We usually wrap up between 7:30 PM and 8:00 PM.

Please RSVP to our Meetup at https://www.meetup.com/Capital-Area-SQL-Server-User-Group/events/268246385/ then use the online event URL to join (note: you MUST RSVP to the Meetup for the Zoom URL to be visible). We will send out a meeting password as we get closer to the event.

See you then!

My company logo on a shirt

I was poking around VistaPrint‘s website the other day (this is the site I use to make my business cards). Of course, with any business that sells promotional items, I was greeted with the proverbial “try your logo on this product” popup window.

One of the items that came up was shirt designs. I decided to have some fun with it, and came up with the design that you see above.

I thought it came out pretty well! I decided to order two shirts, one for my wife and one for myself. I plan to wear it whenever I go to the gym and whenever I attend networking events, or events where I’m presenting, such as SQL Saturday.

If you like this shirt, you can order one, too; just click this link! I’m not getting any money for shirt sales. My payment is you walking around advertising my business!

Alas, I don’t yet have a large marketing budget where I can buy a hundred shirts and give them out for free. Hopefully I’ll get to that point, but I’m not quite there yet.

Upcoming speaking engagements (as of 6/18/2020)

It’s been a while since I posted an update about upcoming speaking engagements. It doesn’t help, of course, that COVID-19 has shut down many of the events where I had applied. I was supposed to speak at SQL Saturday in Chicago, and I had applied to speak at a local code camp, but both events were wiped out by COVID-19.

As of right now, my only confirmed event is Albany SQL Saturday on July 25, which will be a virtual event this year. I will be doing my presentation on networking. Click the link above to register for the event. I love going to SQL Saturday. It’s always a good time, even if you’re not a database geek!

I’ve also applied to speak at this year’s PASS Summit, which, likewise, will also be a virtual event this year. As of right now, I am not confirmed to speak, so I have no idea whether or not I’ll be speaking at this event.

Generally, I apply to speak mainly at events within relatively easy driving distance of my home near Albany, NY (PASS Summit and Chicago SQL Saturday being exceptions), but now that COVID-19 has forced many events to go virtual, I’ll likely apply for more virtual events anywhere.

Check out my presentation schedule (including upcoming dates) for my updated list of speaking engagements. Hopefully, I’ll see you at an event sometime soon.

Selling your business on LinkedIn

Yesterday, I got into a conversation with a friend of mine who told me that he disagreed with me about my LinkedIn networking practices. He, like me, has his own business. He told me why he disagreed with me, and what he told me was very intriguing.

I’ve been using LinkedIn primarily as a networking tool, and I continue to use it as such. That said, LinkedIn can be used for a number of purposes, including one that hadn’t occurred to me — and that reason was why my friend disagreed with me.

“As a small business,” he said (and I’m paraphrasing here), “I don’t have a lot of money to spend on things like marketing and advertising. I read what you wrote about not connecting with someone because she was into sales and you’re not. The thing is, when you own a business, by default, you’re a sales person. It’s great that you’re networking on LinkedIn, but how much are you going to sell to your existing network? You shouldn’t just be connecting with people you already know. What you should be doing is selling your business to people you don’t know. LinkedIn is, essentially, a free advertising tool.”

He definitely has a point. When I was working for an employer, I used LinkedIn primarily as a networking tool, but that narrative changed when I became a business owner. Before, I was looking to maintain contacts as a source of “hive mind” knowledge, public speaking opportunities, and potential job leads in the event that I lost my job (which, I did). Now that I own my own business, I also need to generate leads for my business. LinkedIn can help me do that.

So to my friend, if you’re reading this (which he probably is — he did say that he reads my ‘blog), thank you for that insight. I’ve long said that networking is about building relationships, which it still is. Those relationships also extend to selling your business as well.

2020 Albany #SQLSaturday is virtual, and I’m on the schedule! July 25 #SQLSat961 #SQLSatAlbany @CASSUG_Albany

The schedule for my hometown SQL Saturday is out, and I’m on it! I will be doing one of my favorite presentations: my session on networking!

Albany SQL Saturday is going virtual this year. It will be held on July 25 via an online forum to be determined (connection information will be released as we get closer to the date).

To ensure that you receive information about this event, register on the website.

We’ll see you online in July!

Networking your business

As I come up on two months of my LLC being in business, I’m learning a lot of things as I go along. A lot of it is the boring administrative stuff that comes with running your own business. But another thing I’m finding out is how critical it is to network when running your own business.

As of today, I currently have two clients, and I’m hoping to pick up some more. What’s important is how I got those clients. I got them both by networking. One was a friend with whom I worked at a previous job, while the other was introduced to me through a mutual friend. To me, this drives home the point of just how critical networking can be if you’re running your own business.

I started looking into business networking resources, and came across this article. Of course, the article lists groups such as BNI (which, I understand, is a very good group; however, I’m not sure if I’m ready to pay the steep membership fee just yet. Maybe at some point down the road, when I’m better established). It also lists groups that didn’t occur to me, such as the local Chamber of Commerce, Rotary, and Kiwanis. I also found a link for local Meetup groups (this link lists groups local to me here in the Albany, NY area; you might want to check similar groups for where you’re located). I am going to make it a point to look into these resources and see if I can tap into them.

I also spoke to a friend who also has his own consulting business about possibly establishing some kind of relationship that would be mutually beneficial to both of our businesses. While neither of us had work for the other, we agreed that some kind of business relationship could be beneficial for both of us. We might look into something later down the line.

Of course, there are the other resources that I’ve been preaching all along, such as user groups and conferences.

I’ve written before about how important networking is for an individual’s career. I’m also discovering that networking is important for business as well. It might very well be key for keeping your business afloat.

The power of a single, simple presentation — oh, the places you can go!

This morning, my Facebook memories feed told me that I did a presentation at my local user group five years ago today (this isn’t the first time I’ve written about this). I did a presentation about how to speak the language of technology to those who don’t understand it.

Little did I know at the time that that simple little presentation would end up taking me places.

I had applied to speak at our local SQL Saturday using that presentation, and I wanted to use our user group meeting as a trial run. That evening, I learned a few things about myself.

  • I enjoyed public speaking and presenting.
  • I was good at it (or so I was told).
  • I have a passion for teaching. This was not news to me, but my experience reinforced that passion.

Not only was that presentation accepted for our local SQL Saturday, I have since given that presentation eleven times — including at PASS Summit, and most recently, at a SQL Saturday this past February, just before the COVID-19 crisis hit.

Since I did my presentation at my local user group five years ago, I’ve spoken at a total of twenty-three (and counting) SQL Saturdays, seven in-person user group meetings (including one that was not local), three online virtual user group presentations, a podcast, and PASS Summit. I’ve gotten the opportunity to travel and to make friends because of my experiences!

And those are just my speaking engagements. I’ve also had some other things that have happened, indirectly, because of that presentation.

  • I started a ‘blog about professional development topics (this very ‘blog that you’re reading right now).
  • I’ve gotten a better sense of my own professional skill sets and gained more confidence in them.
  • I’ve started my own business, something that I previously never thought I would ever do.
  • Even though I lost my job, I have much more confidence in my own abilities and career prospects.
  • My professional network has become much stronger.

I credit all of this to that one, simple presentation that I gave at a user group meeting five years ago today.

So consider joining a user group and doing a presentation. You never know where it could lead.