Ghostwriter for my diary?
May 14, 2023 7:41 AM   Subscribe

A lot has happened to me in the past couple years. A few friends have suggested "Write all this down! You're going to want to remember it", and I agree. But I hate writing! And I love talking. I wonder if there's some sort of way I could work with somewhere where I could talk through some of what's happened, and they could write it up. Sort of like a ghostwriter for a my own diary, or a memoir no-one reads like me.

A lot of the stuff that's gone on has been very personal, a lot relating to dating and sex, among other things, so I'd want to find someone who's a good listener on these kinds of subjects, the way a good coach or therapist might be (but without the advice part). Any idea how I might find such a person?

I'm interested in having some record of the stories, but especially of the things I learned from them.

(As always - I also welcome the advice "you're asking the wrong question - try this instead")
posted by ManInSuit to Human Relations (16 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: (ugh sorry saw a typo the moment after I posted: "Sort of like a ghostwriter for a my own diary, or a memoir no-one reads BUT me.")
posted by ManInSuit at 7:42 AM on May 14, 2023

Best answer: I mean, text-to-speech has gotten awfully good in the past few years. I know someone who’s written half a novel verbally. Worth a shot?
posted by showbiz_liz at 7:55 AM on May 14, 2023 [6 favorites]

Have you thought about using a transcription service like ? With those services you can just take voice memos and it will transcribe them for you. You could try that out first to see if you might like it before trying to find someone to do it professionally
posted by JZig at 7:59 AM on May 14, 2023

Bill Clinton hired "...a former foreign policy speechwriter, the historian Ted Widmer, to interview him at length about his early life. Widmer then had the interviews transcribed and sent to Clinton, where they became grist as the former president wrote." A journalist could work as well.
posted by saturdaymornings at 8:00 AM on May 14, 2023

Transcription services are definitely something you can buy by the minute (of talking, not worker's time). Companies charge large but the contractors often make very little so the cost should be reasonable if you contract privately. Transcriptionists will also take the output of mechanical transcription and review and correct that output which is cheaper for you on a per minute of talk basis.
posted by Mitheral at 8:06 AM on May 14, 2023 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: For those recommending transcription (human or automated): That's interesting. My thought was that I want to find to bring at least a bit more thought to it. It's not just typing I want to avoid, it's *writing*". ie - someone who might be able to do at least a bit of orgazing of ideas, etc.

(Though, as I suggested in my Q, I'm happy to have my assumptions about what I want challenged)
posted by ManInSuit at 8:12 AM on May 14, 2023

You might check out The Story Studio, where coaches help you refine stories for verbal storytelling. Then those stories can be transcribed.
posted by mezzanayne at 8:12 AM on May 14, 2023

Best answer: My first thought is this is a great concept to try via transcription + chatGPT to help organize, rewrite, prompt you for additional details in a similar way an interviewer could.
posted by ttyn at 8:23 AM on May 14, 2023 [6 favorites]

Best answer: If you are willing to pay well, perhaps you can engage a graduate student trained in taking oral histories (eg anthropology or history, or even psychology department). That would find you somebody who writes well and can practice the level of emotional detachment needed. You can email the department secretary and position it as a project of oral history with an hourly rate.
posted by dum spiro spero at 9:10 AM on May 14, 2023 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: ttyn: I love the idea of using chatGPT. But would I hit problems with token limits? My limited experience with ChatGPT is it mostly only handles a few hundred words at a time, and this would be more than that... But maybe there's some workaround?
posted by ManInSuit at 10:07 AM on May 14, 2023

The free version of ChatGPT has a token limit of 4096, which is on average apparently about 3072 English words. That includes both sides of the "conversation." The paid version has twice the token limit. You can definitely paste in a thousand words of text into the chat interface and give it some instruction to transform it.

(It's possible that ChatGPT is being somewhat more clever and actually internally summarizing long conversations, boiling down the prior conversation history to fit it into the length limit, which extends how long a chat session can go, but will end up making details fuzzier as you go along.)
posted by BungaDunga at 10:31 AM on May 14, 2023 [3 favorites]

1. Record yourself telling your stories

2. Have the recordings transcribed

3. Hire a developmental editor to edit the transcripts into something coherent
posted by Jacqueline at 12:58 PM on May 14, 2023 [1 favorite]

- think of which medium would best express YOU
- decide on your audience
- find whatever it is (interviewer?) that would draw out the info you want to communicate or memorialize

> But I hate writing! And I love talking.

So, I'm often the other way around and have done this kind of ghostwriting project for friends/acquaintances with remarkable personal histories. Some thoughts from this writer's perspective:

A memoir is a self-portrait. The choice of medium is part of the portrait. You love talking? Great! Why not just do audio? Interviews, podcasts, audio diaries...

I can't help feeling that some of the folks I "ghostwrite" for would be better represented by audio recordings. For one particular family friend who LOVES to talk, the process is that I go visit and take notes from long, rambling chats, then type it up and rearrange into a coherent narrative--and he raves about how good the write-up is...but I kind of feel that it's not "him" enough by the end. For family members and friends, it would probably be more interesting to find a raw audio/video recording of the chat rather than read someone's typed-up summary of it. Even the questions I ask as an interviewer are influencing the information that gets recorded and passed on (my questions are what I want to know, not necessarily how they frame the situation). But hearing the audio from someone who loves to monologue about the time X happened? "Oh, that's so Bob! Imagine experiencing X like he did!"

It is always hard to gauge how much of myself I should put into the work. Obviously, the stories are going through my filter or lens, so some of that can't be helped; but making the material more readable or catchy feels like inserting my own voice too much. Even if the memoir client wants the input, it feels more invasive(?) or fake(?) than, say, being the artist that paints your portrait, or being the producer that shapes the band's sounds into a track...I have no such hesitation when the task is not so personal or creative but more "objective" (like editing someone's article for clarity). Perhaps this is just a preference as a writing person rather than a talking person? If someone's going to write up my life story, I should be the one to write it!

Things that would help the project progress and come together: Decide on the intended audience and purpose of the work. Is your diary just for you, to record experiences that you want to remember, or do you want friends/partners or even the public to hear it too? Perhaps the friends who encouraged you to write it down could interview you or send you questions to decide what things to cover?
posted by Sockin'inthefreeworld at 8:19 PM on May 14, 2023

Best answer: This is basically my dream job. Depending on how much time you’d want to spend on it (it’d have to fit into the rest of my life) I’ll do it.
posted by Merricat Blackwood at 8:21 PM on May 14, 2023 [1 favorite]

Best answer: This is a job—I have a friend who does it. The phrase you're looking for is "personal historian."
posted by babelfish at 6:28 AM on May 15, 2023 [1 favorite]

I messaged you.
posted by Merricat Blackwood at 7:23 AM on May 15, 2023 [1 favorite]

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