Today, we'll talk about how to get your creative work done. Welcome to the Creative Self-Publishing podcast with ALLi director, novelist, poet, and creative facilitator Orna Ross, and ALLi News and Podcast Producer Howard Lovy. Every episode, we'll discuss how to become a profitable self-publisher while also retaining your unique, creative voice. There are many paths to self-publishing, and we'll help you discover yours. In today's episode, we'll talk about doing the creative work necessary to become a successful self-publisher.
Find more author advice, tips, and tools at our self-publishing advice center. And, if you haven’t already, we invite you to join our organization and become a self-publishing ally. You can do that at allianceindependentauthors.org.
Now, go write and publish!
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About the Hosts
Orna Ross launched the Alliance of Independent Authors at the London Book Fair in 2012. Her work for ALLi has seen her named as one of The Bookseller’s “100 top people in publishing”. She also publishes poetry, fiction and nonfiction, and is greatly excited by the democratising, empowering potential of author-publishing. For more information about Orna, visit her website: http://www.ornaross.com
Howard Lovy has been a journalist for more than 35 years, and now amplifies the voices of independent author-publishers and works with authors as a developmental editor. Howard is also a freelance writer specializing in Jewish issues whose work appears regularly in Publishers Weekly, the Jewish Daily Forward, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, and Longreads. Find Howard at howardlovy.com, LinkedIn and Twitter.
Read the Transcripts: Doing Your Creative Work
Howard Lovy: In today's episode, we'll talk about doing the work necessary to become a successful self-publisher. With me now is ALLi Director Orna Ross. Hello, Orna, how are you?
Orna Ross: Hi, Howard, I'm very well. How are you today?
Howard Lovy: Oh, just fine. We're having a little bit of an Indian summer here, it's in the seventies, so hoping to get outside after this podcast. So, as I said last session, I'm using our podcast as my own private session with you while a few thousand other people listen in.
The topic for today is something I can relate to. There's a lot of work involved in self-publishing, and that's something scary to those of us who consider ourselves to be primarily writers. So, talk me off the ledge here, how do I do the work?
Orna Ross: Great. Okay. So yeah, once we decide to become a publisher as well, then the work changes to some degree.
So, one of the things that happens, I did an event last Friday and, again, one of the things that happens when you go into a group of authors who are not used to self-publishing and you're talking to people who are considering it but haven't fully committed, the first thing they bring up is, it's so much work, and that's not wrong, in a way, but it's not a reason to not do it.
So, the main thing to say about creative work is that we do it for its own sake, and the thing about publishing is that, as writers, when we think about publishing, we very often make assumptions that there's a whole load of things that we have to do under the work label that in fact we don't have to do.
This is one of the reasons that we're doing this series about creative self-publishing, because it's very much about choosing the work that you want to do, and then how you support that work with other options. So, some of those options are to delete it, don't do it, dump it, get rid of it. Some of them are to defer it, it doesn't need to be done now so why are you thinking about it? Why are you giving it all this attention and letting it stop you from making progress? And we talked a little bit last time about the other option, which is to actually give it to somebody else and get some support.
So, we spoke about self-publishing being a bit of a misnomer, that we do need a team, that no good book, and certainly no good profitable publishing business, is done by one person on their own writing, producing, processing, and promoting, and doing everything that needs to happen. So, there is the work and then there's the fear of the work, and they're two different things. So, that's the first thing I'd like to say.
The second thing is that both writing and publishing are high level skills and they're quite different. So, absolutely at the beginning, there is a learning curve. So, it's not just the work that needs to be done, but it's learning how to do that work. That can often derail people. So, they don't take account of the fact that this is actually the learning process. So again, at this event, talking to some of the people, they were one-book authors, they had done it once and they thought, oh gosh, that was a lot of work. But of course, second time round it's much easier, because you know so much more. Once you've done your third book, most indie authors say that they spend very little time thinking about the work of production, which is something that takes a huge amount of time and thought at the beginning.
So, that's the second thing I'd like to say is to bear in mind, if you're in the learning process, that you have to account for that, and you have to allow for that, because there is this ultimate great reward, and that's what I'm trying to get to. When you actually get your writing and your publishing, the work of both, working together in an integrated way, it's extremely rewarding. The publishing feeds the writing, and the writing feeds the publishing in a very forward and backward sort of way, in a very harmonized way, and so getting to that point is the challenge.
Howard Lovy: So, the first time around is always the hardest, and like we said last time, whether that's hiring someone else to do the work that you don't know how to do, the act of finding a creative team, that's part of the work you're talking about.
Orna Ross: Yes, that can be part of the work, but before we even get to that, if we're thinking first of all to write a book is a lot of work, and then to publish a book is a lot of work, and different kind of work, and the different kinds of processes in each of those. So, as you go through the stages of writing, the first draft, then the deepening, then the editing, then the final putting it out there, and then the various stages of the process of publishing; the editing, design, production, distribution, marketing, promotion, rights licensing. These are all slightly different things and call on and draw on different skills.
So, you're growing as you're doing them, and they are not just intellectual work. They also are emotional labour involved there and maybe even spiritual labour involved there as well. So, it's drawing on all parts of you, but the main thing to realize is, you're choosing to do it for that very reason. We are attracted to creative work because it grows us, and it is the work, it is the effort of the work that grows us.
So, this chat that we're having now is the first part of the three-parters. So, this time I'm going to talk about work. Next time, I'm going to talk about creative play, and the time after I'm going to talk about creative rest. These all integrate together, so you can't isolate creative work and approach it with a disciplinarian big-stick approach. It just doesn't work.
Creative work is different, and you have to approach it in a certain way for it to flow, and you are looking for flow as a creative, both in your publishing, and in your dealings with money, your profitability, all of that. The more you can bring the skills that you've learned as a writer and are learning as a writer as you go on, the more you can bring those skills into your publishing and not leave them at the door. Okay, the writing is creative, now I go over here, and I get really strict with myself, and I set really hard deadlines, and I'm the worst boss I ever had, and all that kind of stuff, which I hear here a lot in the indie community.
That actually doesn't work very well. It leads to burnout, and we have a burnout problem in our community. One of the reasons is that we don't think enough about sustainability on the publishing side and how to integrate the writing and the publishing together.
Howard Lovy: Everything about publishing is creative work if you look at it that way.
Orna Ross: Absolutely. Everything in life is creative. Work, rest or play, if you look at it that way.
What I'm suggesting is that we do best when we look at it in that way. So, we've all been brought up in a system where we're trained to look at things in a very different sort of way. So, making that shift often involves changing our habits.
So, for example, one of the things that's very obvious about creative work is that you need to go deep. You need to actually take the undisturbed time and give yourself silence, generally is best, noise-cancelling headphones and music without words is the second best, but silence has been shown in research to be the most productive kind of condition for deep work.
We also need to give ourselves distraction-free zones and areas. This is one of the things about being an indie author, we've got these amazing resources, and tools, and things that are coming through to us all the time. We have companies, and we work with companies, and whole industries, who really know how to distract us and take our attention away, even if they want us.
So, you've got the likes of Facebook as a social medium, there are lots of them, they all now are encouraging creatives very much onto their platforms because they know we keep people on the platform.
Howard Lovy: We keep people on, and we give them free content, right?
Orna Ross: Exactly. All of that, but then they also have habits and things that they, by taking our attention away and by firing all sorts of notifications at us, and, you know, putting the dancing animals across our eyeballs, all of those kinds of things actually cut across our ability to do deep work.
S, as creatives, as creative writers and then as creative publishers, and particularly for new to create writing and/or new to creative publishing, we need, generally speaking, to do a few things around creative work. So, one of the things is to categorize the tools and the tasks that we have around us as actually creative, as fostering that kind of deep flow state, or as shallow and distracting.
It's fine to have fun in the shallow and distracting stuff once the deep work is done, but if we don't recognize the activities that we need to do, and it varies from person to person. If we don't recognize what we need there and give it to ourselves, then we can actually find ourselves being extremely busy and our days being full, lots of tasks and lots of things consuming our time and our energy, but not getting the desired outcomes that we want, and not making progress.
Howard Lovy: Yeah, definitely, and I think social media is a prime example of that. I reach a point during the day where everything I say on Twitter, I really should be focusing on saying in my book.
Orna Ross: Yeah, definitely.
Howard Lovy: I feel like you're speaking directly to me with some of these comments.
Orna Ross: Well, I think the thing with Twitter, and whatever our social media poison of choice may be, I think the thing to do with it is to do it after the deep work is done.
I think there's some very practical things we can do, that I have done, and that I've seen others do, which is like disabling our notifications and badges, and all those things that take our attention away. There is nothing coming through to us probably that can't wait. Or we can choose very, very carefully who we left through, maybe some friends or family or something, though they too very often need to be kept out of the zone for a while.
Being hard to reach, if you ask people to respect your time, your energy and so on, you find that they do. It's we who don't, we don't respect ourselves enough to ask for that.
So, having filters, having our rules, setting expectations and resetting them again, and again, and that can be with our family sometimes. So, my family know not to try and get in touch with me before noon. They still try sometimes, but mostly I've got everything switched off and they don't get through. So, that's an example. You might not want to be as extreme as me, but having your way to manage all of that.
Howard Lovy: Well, that's the time that you set apart in your day for your creative work?
Orna Ross: Exactly. For the deep stuff, whatever the deep challenge is of the day.
I spoke last week about the profitable publishing planning program, it very much, I know what has to be done in those hours and I try to stick to it. I'm not going to pretend it always goes swimmingly and it always works out the way I want it to, but definitely if I don't set those hours and keep to those hours, I instantly feel it in terms of my productivity, but also in terms of how I feel.
So, it's like, once you set up the rhythm that suits you, when you slip away from it and your work begins to take a different shape, then you don't feel as good. So, it's reflected, not just in your productivity and your output, but also in your process and how you feel about it.
Howard Lovy: I've set apart Writing Fridays for myself where I don't do any work for clients, I simply do my own work.
Life kind of melts into it. Well, I have to run some errands on a Friday, or, well, I've got to take my dog to the vet, and do something for my kids, and eventually it becomes a Free Friday rather than a Writing Friday, which is what I set out to do.
Orna Ross: Interesting. Yeah, I have tried all sorts of different ways of managing. For me, certainly the few hours a day, at the beginning of the day, has been the best way. But recently, I've been looking again at batching, and looking at days, but I find again, and I'm reminded that, and this is personal, as I say, it might be different for other listeners, but I find when I've got a whole day ahead, something happens where I feel I've got more time than I think I have.
When I only have a few hours, and I know at noon there's going to be this, that, and the rest going off, needing to happen, that focuses me.
So, the point, I think, is to experiment and explore and find out what sort of structure suits you, and it's going to be different for different people, and you don't know for sure. Sometimes you think something is going to work for you, and it doesn't.
So, I think also setting aside certain times of the day for specifics, so an example again from my own life is I have about a 20-minute walk to and from my workspace to my home, and I will set that 20-minutes for something. So, it might be to listen to a podcast, or it might be to just think about a particular issue and problem.
I also use free writing a lot where I'll ask myself a question and then just free write the answer to myself.
So, building up these work habits that help you along the way, rather than. Then sometimes, it might be about clearing the mind completely, and we'll talk about that when it comes to the session on creative rest.
Howard Lovy: To a lot of creative people, sitting aside the time to do that kind of deep thinking, it doesn't seem like work. At least not to me. I enjoy it. I enjoy thinking about everything I want to write. I enjoy the actual work of writing it. The problem comes in when other aspects of my life interfere.
Orna Ross: Yeah, and I mean, we have families, and we have lives, and life does interfere. So, that is going to happen and, in a sense, almost has to be taken into account in some way. But if we find that life is always taking over, and if we find that we're not keeping our promises to ourselves around our work, then there's something else going on. There's some form of resistance, because the thing is that creative work is challenging, and I'll talk in a minute about the three kinds of work that we need to do as indie authors, and that we need to integrate, but it is challenging.
I spoke earlier about the emotional labour, and all of that. We sense that. While we might not be thinking about that with our front mind, we might be thinking, yeah, I want to do it, but this has come up and that's come up. It might be sophisticated forms of resistance where we are actually holding ourselves away from the work. One part of us wants to do it, another part of us doesn't want to do it because it knows that to do it means going there in some way, be it that uncomfortable feeling where you've got to learn something new technologically that you don't want to do or be it something that's much more sole-scratching, and we don't want to engage at level. One part of us doesn't.
So, again, I'll talk more about this when it comes to play and rest, because very often they are the key to actually settling and allowing the work to rise. So, trying to bully ourselves into work only goes so far.
Willpower is something that's talked about a lot in the community, and the whole seat of the pants to the seat of the chair, and inspiration is 99% perspiration, and all that sort of stuff. There is an element of truth in there, but it is a pretty shallow resource willpower. What we're really looking to establish is flow, and flow needs creative practices to sustain it. So, be it free writing, be it meditation, be it some kind of aerobic exercise, be it knitting. There are a thousand ways to do this, but we're looking to set that quiet, humming mind where we sink a bit deeper and then the flow takes over, and then it ceases to feel like work.
In fact, very often you can cease to even know that you're doing it. It's only when you stop, you realize, oh, look what I got done, kind of thing.
Howard Lovy: Right. Yeah. For me, it's running, for about an hour every other day, I've been trying to run. It is for my health, but it's also to be alone with my thoughts. It's the one time during the day when I'm not reachable, and it's just me.
Orna Ross: Yeah, there's great correlation between running and writing. There's a brilliant book about that as well, isn't there, what we talk about when we talk about running. I forget his name off the top of my head. But yeah, it's a really good book about the effort. The effort of writing a book is very, very similar to the effort of long-distance running, and one's the body, one's the mind, but it's the same sort of thing that's going on, and one can feed the other very well. So, a lot of writers have a walking or running habit, and they feed each other. That's one form of creative.
Howard Lovy: Right. So, yeah, and that's something that we'll get deeper into when we talk about creative play and creative rest.
What else do you want to say about this part of it, about actually doing the work?
Orna Ross: So, one of the things that's really important to realize is that we can split the work and think about writing, the writing part and the publishing part, but I've found it, and apologies to those who've heard me speak about this before, but I found it much more useful to think about our work in terms of maker, manager and marketeer.
So, the maker is the person who, the part of us, that actually does the production, and that might be words written, but it might also be some kind of production task around the publishing.
The manager then is the person who does the processing, be that looking after our own creative process, or our pacing, how much we do each day, starting the workday at a particular time, finishing the workday at a particular time, not letting work and play and rest all bleed into each other. Manager looks after that. Also looks after the profit, that keeps everything going. Looks after the process of publishing and the process of writing.
Then of course, the marketeer is the person who looks after the promotion and getting the work out there. The marketeer is the public person, be that public only in the sense of writing tweets, or whatever. It might be that, or it might be full-on getting out there and pressing the flesh. Whatever it is, the marketeer is the person who promotes and gets the books into the hands of readers, and understands the reader journey, and may engage with readers in various ways.
So, those three aspects of the work require a different mental positioning. So, if you are actually in the production mode, then that's the deep work we're talking about, that's where you need to get rid of all the distractions go deep. And that's true whether we're writing, or whether we are sorting a tech problem that we need to sort. So, manager also may need that level of concentration and quiet time, but it's a different mind state.
So, the whole thing of creative flow, I mean, that's a podcast in itself, but that whole mind state of creative flow is something that we need to recognize in ourselves and need to generate in ourselves.
That's really important for the maker, and maker can include designing and making your social media for the month; that can be a maker task. The marketeer is the person who takes it out there, who does the public stuff, and that's a different kind of mindset. Again, that's responsive and reactive, and you're thinking about the reader, you're thinking about the audience.
When you're in maker mode, you're thinking much more about, you're going inwards for what's in there, to bring it out. The marketeer is going out there, to take what you've created and bring it out into the world.
So, fostering those different kinds of work in ourselves, recognizing the different needs, understanding first of all, our relationship to those different kinds of work, because it's not really possible to succeed as a publisher if you don't take on board the kind of work that needs to be done by you.
Then you can, as we talked about, you can outsource, but knowing the things that only you can do, and that you must do in order to develop the relationship with the reader, in order to place and position your books in the right way, in order to write the stuff in the first place, knowing and understanding that about yourself. Once you get that clearer in your mind, it actually facilitates this flow so that every author published book is a bit of a miracle. That it happens at all. It's not easy, and there are lots of places where you can stumble over resistance and block, and understanding which kind of work tends to bring up that resistance in you, and then getting to know yourself a bit better and understand why that might be, involves a lot of self-dialogue, self-exploration.
Howard Lovy: But it doesn't seem so overwhelming when you divide it into, today, I'm a manager, or today, I'm a maker.
Orna Ross: I think this really helps. It's my experience that this helped me enormously, and I've seen it really help others, because when it's all in a big mush, it can be very confusing, and it's the confusion and the doubt that kills us and derails us.
When you actually strip it out and you understand, oh, I always find that kind of work challenging. Therefore, in order to do that, I need to do ABC. Or this kind of work really nurtures that kind of work, so I'll do this first, then I'll do that. Or I'll give myself a reward once I've done such and such.
So, very often in instead of doing that engagement, that self-engagement, and that self-supporting, and that self-nurturing, and that self-care, really. Instead of doing that, what we do is we run away, and we don't want to think about it, and we don't want to go there. And every time we don't go there, and every time we don't think about it, we build up that energy. Whereas every time we stop, and we have the engagement with ourselves, what we do is we build up trust in ourselves, that we know we will be able to deal with it, no matter what it is, over time because we've dealt with it before. So, we don't have to take big leaps each time. This can be something very small, and in fact, it's best if it's kept small. One of the things that derails a lot of indie authors in relation to their work is thinking they can do an awful lot more in a week than they actually can do.
So, underestimating what they can do over a long period of time, but overestimating what would be done in a short period of time, and then being disappointed. So, there's never a sense of accomplishment, even when things are being done and progress is being made, the attention is all on what hasn't been done, rather than what has been done.
Howard Lovy: Exactly, yeah. I end my day with a list of everything that I didn't do, but I don't give myself enough credit for everything that I did do.
Orna Ross: Yeah, exactly. So, maybe the list of what's being carried over to tomorrow, but first maybe a list of what actually got done today.
One of the things we do here is there is a Facebook group, I'll just quickly look up the link, where we set our intentions at the beginning of the month, or sorry, at the beginning of the week on a Monday, morning-ish. I kind of kick it off on UK time, around nine o'clock on Monday morning.
Then at the end of the week, we come back and write up what we actually did do, and very often the intentions are very different. The accomplishments are different, but it's a poor week where nothing has been accomplished, and that can happen if illness or something awful comes in the door, or you just get completely blocked and resistant, but the act of noting the accomplishments over time is very good, because you come to recognize, what does a week's work for me actually look and feel like? What do I actually accomplish in the week rather than what do I think I'm going to do?
So, setting the intentions, very often people start in the group and the intentions they set are quite woolly or vague, you know, do work on the novel, or something. Whereas, the encouragement would be to say, write one chapter of the novel, or write 1500 words, if it's going slowly, or whatever it might be, but being pretty specific about it.
And we note the intentions and the accomplishments under the three hats. So, maker sets an intention, and manager sets an intention, and marketeer sets an intention. Then at the end of the week, as I said, we do accomplishments.
I love reading everyone's accomplishments for the week because sometimes what's accomplished wasn't intended at all in the first place, but something amazing, and there's great support in the group, and the accountability really helps to get things done.
Howard Lovy: That sounds great. Yeah, I've been a lurker on that group. I've read your intentions, and other people's too. Maybe it's time for me to start participating.
Orna Ross: Maybe it is.
Howard Lovy: Well, that's all we have time for now. The next episode, we'll talk about creative play and after that, creative rest.
So, we'll make it a three-parter, and I'm looking forward to talking about using my time more creatively with you.
Orna Ross: Thanks, Howard. Thanks for the great questions.
Howard Lovy: Thank you.
Orna Ross: Take care. Bye, bye.