I haven’t had enough sex,’ sighed John Betjeman, from his wheelchair, when asked what he regretted most about his life. The bumbling, amiable Poet Laureate, dreamily enchanted by Miss Joan Hunter Dunn and her ‘strongly adorable tennis-girl’s hand’, was actually a good deal less celibate than his poems implied.
He got around a bit, chasing – and catching – quite a few women and even, according to legend, having brief gay affairs with WH Auden and a senior Labour Party politician. But still, at the end of it all, there was that insatiable yearning for more.
Betjeman wished he had had more sex. Others wish they had followed their dreams, travelled the world, enjoyed more time with their friends, been a better parent or just spent less of their lives working.
So what is it that you should be doing now to avoid being left with regrets and unfulfilled ambitions?
For many people, the answer is writing a book. Getting it all down. Telling your story. Passing on life’s lessons. Paying tribute to your hero. Explaining your ideas. Changing the way we do business. Leaving a legacy for future generations.
There are any number of reasons why you might want to write that book, and any number of excuses for putting it off and never getting round to it.
If you’ve got the writing skills, and the time, and the stamina, my advice is to get on and do it. Make a start. There’s nothing worse than an empty screen or a blank sheet of paper. Once you get going, you may find it’s easier than you think.
But if you know you can’t do it alone, get help.
There’s no shame in using a ghostwriter. Half the books in your local Waterstones weren’t written as solo efforts by the name that appears on the front cover. If working with a ghost means your book is more interesting, better structured and more readable than it otherwise would have been, your readers will thank you for it – and there’ll probably be a lot more of them.
A top ghostwriter will not take over your book. It’ll still be yours. People who know you will recognise your distinctive voice and your way of looking at the world.
But we know the questions to ask. We know how to push you harder, delve into your deeper feelings, challenge your assumptions and get more out of you. We know how to make your book everything you want it to be. And it could just be the most satisfying thing you’ve ever done.
Ian Shircore is the author of John F Kennedy: The Life, The Presidency, The Assassination and Conspiracy: 49 Reasons to Doubt, 50 Reasons to Believe. His latest book, about the poetry of Clive James, will be published in early 2019