From celebrity ghostwriter to YA fiction – Heather Maclean

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By Heather Maclean

I didn’t set out to be a ghostwriter. That job was first gifted to me, quite unceremoniously, by Mickey Mouse himself. I was fresh out of college and writing for the Disneyland Communications department when the call came in that every department needed to build its own website for this newfangled “internet” thing.

Once I was chosen and given access to the company’s databases, I realized thousands of people had been emailing Disney, and the company wasn’t set up to respond to any. I created an email protocol, but we ran into a problem when it came to email addressed directly to Mickey. How could he answer?

The Standards Department wasn’t convinced that Mickey should be anywhere near computer technology. I couldn’t stand the thought of little kids waiting months for a response while the company figured out what to do though, so I started answering on Mickey’s behalf. His fingers were too big to type, I’d write his starry-eyed fans, but he wanted me to tell you he can’t wait for your visit!

I enjoyed writing for Mickey, feeling like we shared a special bond: he had a message, and I could help deliver it to the world. I also found non-fiction — which most ghostwriting is — far easier to write than fiction. No character arcs, no love story. Just the facts, or recipes, or scientific research. One job led to another, and soon I was being requested. I no longer had to write pitches or proposals; writing gigs were just offered to me.

There were other perks too: I got paid for non-fiction before it was written, I didn’t have to sell it on social media, there was no stress of publicity. I also discovered it allowed me to write more. Successful fiction writers can only publish one or two novels a year. I could put out six or seven.

Ultimately, however, writing for others didn’t completely fulfill me. There’s a line in the movie The Ghost Writer where Ewan McGregor, the titular character, explains that he isn’t allowed to go the book signing party because him being there is “like inviting the mistress to the wedding.” I never felt mistreated or like the mistress, but I did feel left out of the writing community. I was born to tell stories, and while I enjoyed telling them for other people, I wanted to give voice to the passions in my own heart as well.

Seeing Twilight with my daughters after we read the book together convinced me that I had stories of my own to tell. While I loved informing people, I also wanted to inspire them. I wanted to create magical moments for other mothers and their daughters.

I was always so grateful for the opportunity to be a working writer, and I still don’t say no to many jobs. I’ve learned along the way, however, to make time for telling the kinds of stories that make my own soul sing. Even if that means I’ll be in world-building or character development hell for months, in the end, it’s worth it.

Heather Maclean is a bestselling author who is making her YA debut with Toward a Secret Sky, hitting shelves nationwide on April 4. A graduate from Princeton University, she began her career at Entertainment Weekly. A mother of three, Maclean is the founder of Little Laureate, an award-winning educational children’s media company. Named one of the “16 Best Entrepreneurs in America” by Sir Richard Branson, she accompanied the adventurous business legend on a 50,000-mile trip around the world, alternately helping improve the lives of others (designing sustainable development initiatives in South African villages) and fearing for her own (rappelling out of a Black helicopter in a Moroccan sandstorm).

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