I don’t want what I used to want. I’m glad about that. When my writing career was at its peak, book deals, large advances and making the bestseller lists were very important to me. When I worked on a celebrity memoir, (the bigger the celebrity, the more complicated the job) there were hard negotiations about where my name would appear on the cover and how large the lettering would be. It all mattered since these kinds of things were instrumental in my getting noticed and being hired again.
I once did a memoir for a renowned female TV anchor and my
name was on the cover. “With Andrea Cagan,” it read. When she appeared on the David Letterman show to promote the book, I was excited, but when they held it up for the camera, white tape had been pasted over my name. I called her agent to complain, but he said, “Just leave her alone. She’s going on a twenty city book tour and she doesn’t need any drama.”
This was not a one time occurrence. I worked with a rock star and when her cover was finished, they had printed my name in grey lettering on a grey background. I wrote a book for a famous chanteuse/actress who went on Oprah to discuss “the writing process.” I worked for a year with a psychotherapist who stood at the front of a room to promote her NY Times #1 bestseller and “forgot” to thank me.
It was all ego shattering but I got used to it after a while. I tried to remember that whether or not the book celebrated me, my words
and ideas had gone out to countless people and made an impression on them. My motivational books changed people’s lives. The memoirs inspired people. The tragedy to triumph stories had given people hope.
My ghostwriting days were difficult and demanding but they were also rewarding. I met highly talented individuals who led exciting lives. I sat at their dinner tables, I had intimate discussions with them and I found out how they developed their skills. Along with their power and fame, I came to know their weaknesses, foibles, insecurities and fears and dreads. A singer threw up from fear before she went on stage. A couple waxed on about their loving relationship while their marriage was on the rocks. An actor claimed to be sober when he was on his way to rehab for the third time.
The more I forgot about credit, the more I came back home relieved to be me. I didn’t have to go on national book tours. I didn’t have to be camera ready when I went to the grocery store.I didn’t have relationship breakups in public, paparazzi hounding me and nasty lies in the tabloids. I became content to do my work, go to the bank and make like a ghost and disappear.
One day, when I had completed an exceptionally stressful project, I came out from under the ghost’s white sheet, I let it all go and the stress lifted immediately. I didn’t care about big book deals any longer. There were no more impossible deadlines or dealing with
agents, publicists, publishers and ego driven celebrities. All I had to deal with was me and what I wanted to say, and even if no one read it, it didn’t matter to me any more.
“If you could have your pick, whose life do you really want to write about?” someone asked.
“My own,” I said.
When Covid forced us into lockdown, I walked around my house and looked at the keepsakes I had. I touched objects that triggered vivid memories about my past so I decided to write about what had shaped me into the person I’ve become. The work was compelling and I had no particular form in mind. Was I writing a blog? An essay? A book? I didn’t stop to figure it out. I just let the thoughts spill onto the page with no regard for themes, connecting threads or segues.
Now I have a large number of stories written with no need or desire to do anything in particular with them. I share one with a friend from time to time but since there is no tangible destination, getting credit doesn’t plague me. The writing has become my meditation and my healing as I watch with wonder as the pages fill up with no apparent
effort on my part. Isn’t that enough?
During a short mediation at the beginning of each of my writing classes, I ask my students to put their attention on their breath and see their thoughts dissolving at the edges like drifting clouds. My stories have become my personal clouds. They are my breath,
my thoughts and my inspiration. There is nothing to take credit for and nothing to be ashamed of. They are my life.
I worked with a member of the White House Press Corps who told
me about a card sitting on a President’s desk:
THERE IS NO LIMIT TO WHAT A MAN CAN DO
OR WHERE HE CAN GO
IF HE DOESN’T MIND WHO GETS THE CREDIT