Forget politics. If you have an interest in being a writer, you owe it to yourself to read this in-depth article from The New Yorker, “Donald Trump’s Ghostwriter Tells All.” In it, Tony Schwartz explains every step of ghostwriting for a difficult subject and the brilliant workarounds he came up with.
Of particular note:
- Negotiating a much higher than usual payment (half the advance and half the royalties) on the strength of his credentials.
- Working around Trump’s short attention span by shadowing him instead of using traditional interviews.
- Artfully making lying seem palatable by coining “truthful hyperbole” and other turns of phrase.
- This recognition of the importance of audience sympathy:
While working on “The Art of the Deal,” Schwartz kept a journal in which he expressed his amazement at Trump’s personality, writing that Trump seemed driven entirely by a need for public attention. “All he is is ‘stomp, stomp, stomp’—recognition from outside, bigger, more, a whole series of things that go nowhere in particular,” he observed, on October 21, 1986. But, as he noted in the journal a few days later, “the book will be far more successful if Trump is a sympathetic character—even weirdly sympathetic—than if he is just hateful or, worse yet, a one-dimensional blowhard.”
- Finding an appropriate voice:
In his journal, Schwartz describes the process of trying to make Trump’s voice palatable in the book. It was kind of “a trick,” he writes, to mimic Trump’s blunt, staccato, no-apologies delivery while making him seem almost boyishly appealing. One strategy was to make it appear that Trump was just having fun at the office. “I try not to take any of what’s happened too seriously,” Trump says in the book. “The real excitement is playing the game.”
Due to the political turn things have taken and his personal distaste for Trump, Schwartz now regrets writing The Art of the Deal. He succeeded too well. If you ever find yourself in a ghostwriting position, however – hopefully one more palatable to your principles – you would be well served to remember his tactics.