It’s a story I often tell—how I became afflicted with the writing bug.
I was a pretty voracious reader as a kid, consuming several books every month. One of my favorites was the Hardy Boys series, in which two upright, teenaged brothers solved baffling mysteries in their New England home town. I gobbled the things up from the library and built my own collection. They were written by Franklin W. Dixon.
After a while it dawned on me that this person, this Mr. Dixon, was sitting somewhere writing these things—undoubtedly in a study full of books in a mansion, puffing on his pipe and stroking his beard. I wanted to be that guy when I grew up. So I started writing and am still writing up to this day. I can’t stop. So far, no mansion or pipe, but I did have a beard for a while.
Of course, Mr. Dixon’s story is rather different than I imagined. In fact, he never existed. He was the creation of the Stratemeyer Syndicate. All those Hardy Boys adventures (and Nancy Drew and Tom Swift) were cranked out, over the years, by dozens of freelance ghostwriters—anonymous and cheap. A piece in The Atlantic recounts the Stratemeyer strategy and how it presaged the way much online writing is done today—by underpaid writers who can take it or leave it. You can read it here.
The way the system worked is that editors at the Stratemeyer Syndicate came up with outlines for their books, which were sent off to the freelancers to turn into complete manuscripts—which then went through a thorough editing process. Here’s what one of the early Hardy Boys outlines looked like.
For anyone thinking of becoming a writer, be aware of this: Writing is a commodity just like any other. There is nothing easy or glamorous about it.