Novelists Jerome Griffin and Orna Ross, ALLi Director, discuss the seven stages of conscious creation as they relate to writing. Understanding the different requirements of each stage from concept to completion can, Orna argues, up your writing speed, ensure you're more likely to finish well, and improve your writing craft.
Here’s a summary of the topics we covered:
Vision Phase of writing: Intention, Incubation, and Investigation
Making Phase of writing: Drafting and Elaboration
Revision Phase of writing: Clarification and Correction
Why writers fail to finish and publish their books
Three phases of the writing process
A linear vs. erratic approach to writing
Motivation and Exhilaration to write
Skills and mindsets for each writing phase
Focusing your mind
Control your inner Critic
Collaboration and Teamwork
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Jerome: My name is Jerome Griffin, I’m an author and founder of Short E Publishing. And joining me to discuss the seven stages of the creative process is Orna Ross who is a best selling author and founder of the Alliance of Independent Authors.
Good morning Orna and welcome.
Orna: Hi Jerome, how are you and hello everyone, welcome to our kick off session for Fringe, great to have you here.
Jerome: Absolutely, thank you very much. I’m fine thanks, how are you, Orna, today?
Orna: Yeah, fantastic.
Jerome: Good, good, writing away as, any projects on the go?
Orna: Always a project on the go, I’m actually putting together the go creative series, which has had a long and checkered kind of, I took the scenic route on this one. So, it’s great to be putting it to bed and doing this session with you. And there is an accompanying workbook which people can download and get stuck in to. So, it’s all coming out now into publication, which is great. And then I’ll be back to fiction.
Jerome: Excellent, well, good stuff and that leads us nicely into this session, and we’ve got a few questions lined up about the project you’ve been working on.
So, I’d like to start by, for our audience, can you give us a brief overview of the seven stages of the creative process in relation to writing a novel please?
Summary of the 3 phases and 7 steps of the Creative process
Orna: Yeah, sure. Just, I suppose, the first thing to say about this and you know, those who have kind of followed the work on my own website, will be familiar with the concept that these stages are not unique to writing a book. These are the stages of the creative process no matter what you’re creating and we always go through these. The thing is, that when we do something that is kind of easy for us, we don’t notice them. But when we’re doing something that’s challenging, like writing a book or publishing a book, then understanding the seven stages and, you know, which stage you’re in at a particular point in time is really useful. Because each stage asks you to bring a different attitude of mind and a different set of skills.
And so, the stages are, the first one is intention, so you actually, you know, make a firm, you go public on a firm intention to say I am going to write a book and it’s about such and such.
The next one is incubation, where you germinate the idea. And this is the one that, a lot of writers skip and the more preparation you can do around incubation and germination, actually the easier the later stages get. So, it’s really worth while putting plenty of time into this phase and stage.
The next one is investigation. And it goes hand and hand actually with germinating the idea. In that you investigate the idea, research it and we’re very familiar with the idea of researching, you know, in libraries, on the internet, what we conventionaly think of as research. But research actually takes three different forms, there is that type of research but there is also researching the imagination and researching the memory. And again, these are really key preparation stages that are great fun and if you put the right amount of time and energy and approach into them, they make the next stage, which is stage four, the making stage, the drafting, much, much easier.
After drafting comes stage five, which is elaboration. It’s deepening the draft. Making sure you’ve said everything you want to say.
And then and only then should we start editing, the clarification and correction stage.
And then finally it’s completion. Finishing the work and letting go. And it’s really surprising how many people can go through the first six stages and never finish. Finishing is a stage in and of itself. It needs it’s own particular kind of energy and that’s why, you know, it’s something that people don’t necessarily understand clearly enough.
Why Writer's fail to finish and publish
Jerome: Ok. Why do you think that is? Why do you think people get that far in the process and don’t complete it?
Orna: I think what happens, I think fear can kick in at that point, you know? If you’re constantly kind of ‘improving’ the work, then you don’t have to put it out there. There is always something scary about putting a book out in to the world because of course then, it is ready for everybody else to judge and criticize if necessary, review, you know? And you have to put it out there. So, for some writers and particularly beginning writers, there is a sense that it is never good enough and so there is a holding on that happens.
Three phases of the writing process
Jerome: Yeah, sure, ok then. As well as the seven stages of the creative process, you’ve broken these down into three grouped phases. Can you tell us a little bit more about that and why you think that’s necessarily?
Orna: Well, I think it is useful and I suppose that’s another thing I’d like to emphasis, that both the seven stages and the three phases are ways of thinking about what we’re doing and the aim is that it is useful. So, if it is useful for you, use it and if not, if you don’t need it, then there is no need, perhaps, to go there. It’s very often when people are blocked or getting stuck or it’s taking too long, that knowing about this stuff is useful. So, in writing, there are no rules, nothing is absolutely necessary, every, you know? And we make up so much of what we do as we go along that it is open ended and exploratory.
But thinking about your work, the three phases are vision, making and revision. And I think it is, again, useful to know which stage and which phase you are in.
So, the vision phase would be the intention, incubation and investigation. They kind of go together and it can be very difficult to separate them and so, you know, they belong very naturally together.
And then the making phase, it is a very different energy that you bring to that, drafting and deepening. It’s, you know, a much more kind of conscious effort phase whereas the vision phase, I think it’s much looser, more organic, more exploratory.
And then the final phase of revision, again, has a different energy. Clarification, correction, editing and completing require, you know, they fit very well together in terms of the energy and the skills that you’re trying to bring to it.
So, you know, I am very aware that, as I’m talking about, I’m making it sound terribly linear and it isn’t. Each of the seven stages and each of the three phases, they meld in to each other, they kind of interweave and loop around each other. I often think of it as being like a cèilidh or a bard dance, you know? That kind of swoops and loops and, you know, yells and cries and, you know, hopefully moving in that sort of musical way, being free to move forwards and backwards. So, you know, as you’re drafting, of course you’re also germinating and incubating and maybe doing another bit of research and, you know, maybe even going back to say oh my goodness, this book isn’t about what I thought it was about. It’s actually about something else, you know? So, it isn’t linear, first I do this and then I do that. I mean, I’m sure you have the experience, when you talk to people who have never written a book, that they think, you know, you sort of sit down at your computer and you write the first word and you type all the way through all the chapters until the last word. Well, there may be some writers who do that but they are …
Jerome: I’d like to meet them if they are [laugh].
Orna: Yeah, I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who does it. Actually, I did, years ago, met one writer who had it all in their head first and then put it all down and he did very little revision. But they were short books, novellas really, and it’s most unusual. Most of us work, whereas if it was like kind of a jigsaw, on a bit over hear and then a bit down there. And then it all comes together in the end by some kind of mysterious process that we don’t fully understand.
Jerome: Yeah, absolutely. I’d like to take you back actually, to something you said earlier about the exploration stage, where there are three different forms of research, you know? You’ve got the library research which everybody can kind of visualize. But then you talked about imagination and memory and then having moved on to how it’s not a linear approach and, you know, you go through different phases at different times? Just want to talk about the side of research where, you know, if people come across things that make their work factually inaccurate or it suddenly doesn’t make sense, how you can get past that? I mean, obviously the works are organic so they can change but like the example you gave about the author who has the idea and goes through it start to finish without deviating, I wonder if people hit those stumbling blocks, how they get around them? And whether the imagination and memory side of research are sometimes more powerful than the actual library research, and because it’s fiction, we can get away with it? Or, how do you feel about that?
Orna: Yeah, I definitely, it’s so interesting you’re asking this question because of where I am in my own fiction writing at the moment, actually. I’m in the middle of a trilogy about the poet Y.B. Yeats and it’s a fictionalized biography so, certain parts of it are invented but a lot of it is tied to what really happened. And what the experience of writing this book has done for me, more than anything else is, I will never do this again [laugh]. It’s so hard in comparison to the freedom and the fun you can have with fiction. And so, you know, sometimes I think authors get bogged down a little bit in research and getting everything right and a little bit concerned about that critic who will say, particularly, you know, historical fiction writers or people who are writing in a factual world, worried that somebody is going to find some detail that isn’t exactly right and so on. And I would say, don’t worry so much about that. Never worry so much about those critical types of people. You do your best with that stuff but that’s not where the heart and soul of a book lies, you know, with the connection that happens between the imagination of a reader and the imagination of writer is happening at a much, much deeper level than that. And the critic who is jumping on those facts is kind of missing the point a little bit. So, yes of course we do our best to get our facts right and in actual fact, you know, I have killed myself getting the facts right around the story that I’m writing, probably gone way too far and taken it far too seriously and that’s why I’m saying, I do at the same time realize that that part of it, while it’s important to some degree, the most important thing actually, is to go deep and this is the bit that far more writers miss out on, I think. The need to really go deep as to why you’re writing this particular book and where it’s going to connect, you know, at that level, on that deep and aware level. So, it’s often I think of it as being, you know, it’s what is between the words as much as the words you’ve chosen and just connecting you to the readers. So, when you get that sort of anxious moment about ah, you know, is this ‘right’, remember that nothing in fiction is actually right and even in non-fiction, you know, it’s all filtered through the perception of the writer and the reader. It’s that connection, it takes a great reader to make a great book as much as good writing and so on. So, put more attention and more emphases on going deeper. You’ll have more fun there. You will connect more deeply with your own reasons for writing in the first place. And you are likely to connect more deeply with your reader as well.
A linear vs. erratic approach to writing
Jerome: Good, excellent, fair enough, ok. You mentioned earlier that you don’t see the creative process as linear but particularly for aspiring authors out there, would you recommend they try and keep it as linear as possible? And is it something, well, you said yourself, you don’t do that, you dip back and forth between the different stages. But do you think that as an aspiring author, it’s worthwhile trying to keep it as organized and as linear as possible? Or to just go with the flow of it?
Orna: I think whatever is producing words is what you should do, you know, once you get to the producing words part of the process. But I definitely think understanding that it does happen in a staged way and understanding those stages and what they are asking of you, will make your life a lot easier and you’ll have more fun. And you won’t hit that horrible place where you don’t know what to write, where you’re sitting down and you’re staring at the screen and nothing is coming. If you follow the staged approach, then by the time it comes to writing, then you’re absolutely dying to write. You are, you know, you’ve held yourself back for a long time and when you sit to do your draft, the job is very different. So, in the workbook that accompanies this session, you will see that the sorts of skills that you’re drawing on when you’re drafting are very different. And then you can just kind of go with those because you will already have satisfied a great deal of your other needs in the first three stages.
So, I would really recommend, it’s like one of these things where, you know, it is the best advice I can give and I try to keep it myself, and don’t always. But, and you won’t always either and that’s ok. But it’s definitely good, guiding principles and then the small bits of the kind of looping back and looping forward that happen within the different stages, that’s fine, that too is part of the process. That’s not, you know, it’s not rigid, it is not linear but it is staged.
Jerome: Yeah, fair enough. And it’s so difficult, I know this to be true myself but you said, you know, it’s best to delay the actual writing for as long as possible, until you’re champing at the bit to actually really get going on it. And you mentioned earlier that you think one of the key phases that authors tend to skip is the incubation and germinating period. But when, is there a time when you know now is the time to start writing or when do you have that revelation?
Orna: Well, it can come in two ways. It can come in this absolutely uncontrollable urge to write but I don’t think you should write until you have a good sense of what is happening, beginning, middle and ideally some sense of the ending that you’re going for. You may not know the exact details and this applies for non-fiction writers as well, you know, to have a good sense of the book. Now, I know some people are plotters and some people are pouncers and some people like to outline and other people like to write as they go. But having observed now, you know, a vast number of writers between the work I used to do, and when you and I knew each other, back in Dublin, back in the 2000’s, you know, running a writing school and a literary agency and the work I do now in the Alliance of Independent Authors, having observed definitely thousands of writers, it’s undoubtedly true that those who outline, produce more work than those who don’t. So they, you know, and particularly once they’ve done it a few times, they speed up and, you know, engage more with their work and what they’re doing and what they’re about, if they outline. So, I would say the ideal, and again, you know, the ideal doesn’t always happen but I would say that the ideal is don’t start until you have a very good sense of what you’re going to be writing. And aim that when you begin the draft, you have, first of all, cleared the decks so that you can actually do the work of drafting, you know, in a consistent way. So, ideally when you’re drafting a book, you should be working roughly at the same time each day or if not that, that you’re very clear on what hours in the day you’re going to be doing this work. You should be working on it every day if possible. So, you’re much better to do, you know, 20 minutes and half an hour a day for six days than to do all that time in one or two sessions. There is a sort of a relay thing that happens where, you know, day upon day, it’s how you build a longish book and immersing yourself in the world on a daily basis makes it much, much easier. When you break it, you come out of it. And it is like, you know, when you stop reading a book and you put it aside, it actually, no matter how much you are enjoying it and are engaged with it, it can be quite difficult to pick that book back up again. It’s the same as when you’re writing. So, the drafting stage needs, you know, you need to prepare for it in your life and also having an outline there so that you know what you’re going to be, what you’re aiming for. And also knowing that it will change as you go. So, you’re holding those two contrary things in mind all the time. And they’re equally important and you balance them. And then never sitting down to actually draft until you know what you’re going to write in that session. So, you don’t sit down and stare at the screen with no idea of what’s going to come. You actually have a clear idea before you sit down, you know roughly how many words you are going to do and what you are going to be writing about and again, it may go in a different direction and that’s ok. But that’s the best way to prepare for it.
So, yeah, so starting then, to answer your question, the point at which you should begin the draft is the point at which you’ve cleared the time and space in your own life to do it and you’ve got a reasonably clear idea of what you’re setting out to do.
Motivation and Exhilaration to write
Jerome: Fair enough. And so being as organized as possible and having that time and space keeps people motivated, I guess, to complete the draft. And it stops them getting disillusioned or it helps prevent the disillusionment …
Orna: Absolutely and keeps the nerves and the, you know, the inner critic is kind of kept happy. So, an energy rises if you do it in that way, if you’ve prepared well by doing good prep in the first three stages, there’s an energy that then rises and carries you through. It can be hugely exhilarating actually. I know that Rachel Aaron who wrote a book about moving from doing 2000 words a day to 10000 words a day or something, she talks very much about the exhilaration when you actually are drafting and when you get in to that stage of being able to really kind of write, you know, a lot at speed. Which is what you’re aiming for in the drafting stage.
Jerome: And to keep that motivation and exhilaration going for the full drafting stage, I’ll just come on to something you said before and I know on your blog, you’ve said and pardon the vernacular but you said just get the shitty first draft done. And, you know, we all recognize that some of our writing is going to be on fire and some of it’s just not going to be in the first draft stage. But for aspiring authors, for newbies to this game, how would you advise them to avoid getting disillusioned by when they’re not producing the goods and when it is just part of the shitty first draft? How would they just keep motivated to keep going on? What advice would you give them there?
Orna: The thing you have to do is you have to have support practices. You have to have ways in which you nurture the artistic part of yourself which tends to be very child like, soft, sensitive, open, you know, you need to be all of these things in order to draft well. And it’s exposing of yourself and so you need support practices and one of the ones I recommend very highly is f-r-e-e writing, another is perhaps some form of mediation. And you also, on a daily basis, need to get out and move. You need to not get so bogged down with responsibilities and the book that you forget you have a body [laugh]. So, those three things together, if you do them, and getting good rest is the other thing, intentional rest so that you’re not, if you get your mind in to a state where it is tight and anxious, that is anti creative. So, as well as doing the work of the drafting, and particularly in that phase, you need these sustaining, nurturing practices that are soft and easy and support you as an artist. You need to also surround yourself with people who understand what you’re trying to do and who will help you and motivate you and, you know, pick you up when it feels tough and so on. So, if you don’t have people like that in your life, you need to find them online or, you know, in your local community, there are writers groups everywhere and ALLi exists of course to do just that. But make sure that you do find yourself a supportive community, even if it is just a community of one or two other people who will, you know, encourage you in what you’re doing. And what you’re doing is a wonderful thing to do. And you know, it’s like any wonderful thing, like anything, it’s challenging and the very act of creating is in itself, by definition, a challenge. You are stretching yourself, you are going outside your comfort zone and feelings will arise and it is those feelings of anxiety that destabilize most books. So, it’s the inner critic that is susceptible to outer criticism and it is about learning ways to sort of diffuse and dissolve that. And there are lots of exercises, again, in this accompanying workbook that you can do, that will be helpful there.
Jerome: To be honest, what you said there a little while ago about finding supportive people as well, having those around you, it really resonates with me because when I did the course that you ran in Dublin, Get it Written, and there were, I think it was 24 of us on the course? And early in the course you split us up in to genre specific groups and got us working with each other, critiquing each others work and that was such a powerful motivator because, you know, being an author is such a solitary or can be a solitary occupation. I’ll come back to that bit because it doesn’t necessarily need to be but yeah, surrounding yourself with supportive people really, really, yeah, it resonates with me.
So, moving on, you said earlier each stage of the creative process requires a different set of mindsets, skills and behaviors. Can you give us an overview of those different requirements and skills and mindsets for each stage?
Skills and mindsets for each writing phase
Orna: I’ll do it for the three phases probably because each of the, and again, this is in the workbook and the only reason I’m not going to talk through each one is just that we only have an hour and each on could nearly take, you could nearly give an hour over to each one. So, just to talk about in terms of the phases.
So, the vision phase, as you would expect, is very much about opening up. So, the first phase, as we said, is intention but even before you get to the intention, there is this whole sort of imaginative transformation that needs to happen. So, we all go about our days, you know, doing what we need to do and we’ve got family or we’ve got work or, you know, a household to uphold or whatever it may be and there is this outer self that is out in the world doing its thing. But we also have an inner life and we have a brain that thinks too much, you know, one of the outstanding findings of psychology in the last 20 years is just how redundant most of our thought pattern is. And a lot of the work in the vision phase is actually about quietening the thinking mind. So, in the go creative process, we call that the con mind, because it’s associated with so many con type words like conservative and conceptual and confliction sometimes, and so on. So, you quieten that dimension of yourself so that the creative mind can arise.
So, you can’t grasp hold of creativity. It’s like trying to hold water, it would just run away between your fingers. What you do is you dissolve the con mind, dissolve the thinking mind and then spontaneously creativity just rises, it can’t help itself. It’s always there for you. It is about you finding the way in which you access it.
So, in the vision phase, we’re talking very much about things like mulling and doodling and staring at the window and, you know, day dreaming and nice sleep and how you encourage that creative state to rise in your life.
And the making phase then, it’s a different energy. We’ve already spoken a good bit about that, it’s a much more work based energy to get the draft written. And then the deepening phase, also in the drafting phase, lots of questioning of yourself about what exactly it is you’re trying to say and how do I help the reader to see more clearly, to understand more deeply what it is I’m actually trying to communicate here? So, that will be the drafting and deepening. So, it’s a much more, in this phase, you continue to nurture your creative self, of course you do but you’ve also got to bring in the skills of discipline and commitment and selection. So, you’re going to need to probably say goodbye to certain things in your life that the book is going to take the time and space, things like maybe television or hobbies or certain friends or whatever it might be, you’re going to have to kind of like put that aside for a while and really commit. There’s a focusing and an attention that happens in this phase that is, feels very directed. Whereas in the vision phase, you’re encouraging and openness, in the making phase you’re encouraging a focus and a direction.
And then the revision phase, in the clarification phase particularly, you’re looking, you know, for the first time, you put on a critics hat yourself and you look at the work in terms of what needs to be made better? What do I have to do in order for the reader to really understand? What did I mean, you know, when I said that over there? The most useful tool you have in this stage, and there are loads and loads of questions and editing points in the workbook, Work and Play book, I’m calling it, that accompanies this session, loads of things to look out for as well, you know, you’re looking at things like spelling and punctuation. And your most useful tool is the delete button, you know, you have overwritten in your ‘shitty first draft’ and then you deepened it, hopefully, and you’ve overwritten again, and that’s the job in the drafting and deepening, is to create, produce, to put down as much as you can, you know, it’s a down draft. You’re doing it for you, you’re getting it down so you see what you are actually saying until you have that first draft completed and you actually know what you’re saying. And then the correction, clarification is like the updraft, it is for the reader. So, you’re looking at clarity above all, simplicity, brevity, you know, the hallmarks of good writing where you’re really concerned about saying it better and getting rid of all the weaknesses and the floppiness and the stuff that doesn’t work. So, for this phase, I always think it’s kind of useful to imagine somebody who is quite critical, reading your work but not until you get to this phase. So, that’s why it is so important to separate them.
And then finally, in the finishing phase, it’s a different sort of skill again, it’s more an understanding of you as an artist and as a creator and understanding your own tendency to be attached to the work or perhaps to be impatient? To push things too fast and put it out there when it’s not quite ready? Observing, you know, the kind of self-talk that you do at the end of the book is very revealing and is very helpful for the next one. How you feel about putting it out there? And understanding as well, things like what changed in the course of writing the book and what stayed the same? What did I learn? How am I different and how do I go on now to the next one?
Jerome: Right, absolutely. And yeah, I mean you’ve clearly said what is required in each of the three phases but I guess it’s one thing understanding what is required, very different to transition from one to the other. You’ve got bag loads of experience with the work you’ve done over the years so, I’d imagine that you’re quite used to jumping from one mindset to another. But, again, for the aspiring author out there, how do you go about changing your mindset and your behaviors for each stage? Particularly if, like we said, it’s not a linear process and you could go back to the incubation stage or you could go back and forth across the stages? How do you then refocus your mind to deal with that?
Focusing your mind to write
Orna: One part of it is what we spoke about earlier, which is the nurturing practices that keep us strong and that keep our mind big, you know, so we stay in big mind and the smaller anxieties and things that are kind of niggling at us and our own tendency to distract ourselves and not to do the work, because resistance is something that we haven’t quite discussed but has been present in our conversation since the beginning. And the resistance to doing whatever it is that needs to be done. So, sometimes, you know, when you should be drafting, it would be much easier to just go off, you know, go over here and do a little bit more research and so you need to, it’s more and more, I think about recognizing that in yourself and allowing big mind to just observe it. When you observe it, that in and of itself is often enough. I think what derails people more than anything else is that they’re not aware of these stages and because they are unaware that these even exist, they are very confused and they can become overwhelmed. So, certainly the first stage is awareness. What is my task here, at this point in time on this project? What am I actually supposed to be doing? And secondly aware of your own tendencies to resist which is universal, always when you are making something that matters to you, resistance is part of the process. So, you need to know that resistance exists but more importantly, you need to know how it presents itself for you. So, again, it’s about developing that part of yourself that is the observer. So, again, what I would see looking at people, looking at a lot of writers across the board, those who have a nurturing practice that keeps big mind, you know, observer mind, artist mind, whatever you want to call it, the create state active in them, be it a meditation practice, yoga practice, you know, running, whatever it might be, whatever is your thing, those that have that, cope with the universal resistance that rises. Cope with, you know, knowing with what they’re supposed to be doing at a particular time and getting on and just doing it. And those that don’t, get caught in the small mind. So, the practices that sustain you, number one and knowing what you’re supposed to be doing and in a sense, like in a meditation where you bring yourself back to the breath each time, it’s about bringing yourself back to whatever it is you’re supposed to be doing at that time. So, in order to do that, you need to know what it is you’re supposed to be doing at that time. And that to me is stage one, anyway, just getting to understand where you are in the project, what it is asking of you and what you are supposed to be doing.
Jerome: Ok. And following on from that, I know you’ve devised quite an extensive list of exercises and techniques for authors, to help them through each stage of the creative process. I think we’ve touched on some already, mediation and what not, that you’ve talked through. I know when I did the course in Dublin, one that I’ve used since, that I just thought was brilliant was sitting on the couch and getting your characters to talk to their therapist. And it brings out a back story, it brings out so many great things about the characters. But can you give us a couple of examples of other techniques and exercises that you think would be useful for authors to get over stumbling blocks that get in the way of their writing?
Orna: Yeah, I mean there are so many and I’ve selected some of the most effective ones for the workbook and I do want to distinguish between the kinds of practices that I’ve been talking about there a moment ago like running, meditation, yoga, f-r-e-e writing, they’re kind of support practices. And then what we have in the workbook are actually very specific exercises that apply to each stage, if you like. So, they draw out, you don’t need to know what skills do I need for this stage, you just need to do these exercises and by doing it you will kind of have your, you will be applying your skills to it. So, in terms of, for example, the incubation stage, there is a recommendation to go on a word diet, where you stop actually reading, don’t read any newspapers, books, magazines and as little as possible on the internet. Anything that doesn’t actually apply to the work that you’re working on. So, that would be, just the kind of exercise that doesn’t require you to actually do some writing.
There are loads of exercises here where we actually ask you to write specific things in and around your project. In the investigation phase, looking at other books that people have written that you love but reading them twice. First as a reader, as you normally would but then when you are finished as a writer, so, looking at what the writer actually did to achieve the effects that you think are worthwhile in the book? So, really breaking it down and looking at the sentence structure and the size of the paragraphs, the rhythm of the book, the pacing, where certain things happened, mannerisms and favorite words, you know, all these kind of things that go on in a book and by observing it closely in somebody else’s writing, you develop the ability to observe this in your own.
Also a very good thing to develop is your observational skills, so, for five or ten minutes a day, where you actually start describing, you know, looking really closely at where you are and describing it through the five senses. So, what you’re seeing, smelling, tasting, feeling and so on. So, getting very, very specific about what you’re seeing and then just dropping that. But developing the ability to describe what is going on around you in words and thinking about developing the five senses.
So, these are all in the visioning stage. So, one of the most important things is to have a notebook, always carry a notebook. So, when you are leaving the house, you know, it’s kind of money, keys, Oyster card or whatever, you know, you’re getting, and my notebook. So, you don’t kind of leave home without it.
Control your inner Critic
And then in terms of, you know, when you’re drafting, there are some exercises here about how you can actually control the critic, and Annie Lamott’s, where she drops the voices in to a jar, is, any of you who have read Bird by Bird, that’s a very useful sort of exercise. Hemmingway’s recommendation to always leave a little ink in the well so you walk away from the writing one day, knowing, in the middle of a sentence, knowing what the sentence, you know, and you pick up that sentence the next day when you sit back down and you’re off again. You don’t have to kind of think about it.
And in the deepening phase, I think the most useful thing is what we call the anti edit, so it’s to develop the frame of mind where you are very indulgent and you’re looking at all the best parts of it, of what you’ve done. And you draw, literally, so, you print it off and draw circles around, yeah, I like that. And this is the bit or what is it about it that I like and I value in this part? And then bringing the rest of the draft up to meet that. And beginning to learn in that deepening phase about what is actually going on, what are the emotions that are being generated? And this is just as true for non-fiction writers as a fiction writer, name the emotions that are being generated by the work and thinking about how you go further in to that feeling? Handwriting is another skill, I think we need to connect with. Of course keyboards are fabulous and I use text to speech and I have lots of technical tools that I love to work with, Scrivener, Vellum, you know, all of these, they’re all wonderful in terms of making, writing and producing books. But we learned to write with our hands and paper and ink and it expresses us in ways that, you know, type never will. So, I really recommend returning to handwriting, particularly for your f-r-e-e writing, but also for note taking and especially if you’re trying to kind of go a bit deeper, incubate something, germinate something, go back to the hand. Yeah, and then there are just, in the workbook, too many to kind of list off now, but there are just loads and loads and loads of questions that you can ask yourself about the book to ensure that you’re bringing out as much as you possibly can.
Collaboration and Teamwork
Jerome: Yeah, yeah, like I said, it’s a pretty extensive list you’ve designed and yeah, I think, yeah, even just using a handful of them would help any author along the way. Right, as part of the completion stage earlier, you recommended getting a second opinion on any work. And many indie authors claim that they have a team behind them from beta readers and editors to cover designers and marketers and it’s a team effort these days as opposed to a solitary exercise. But as the different stages of the process require different mindsets, do you think it’s fair to suggest that some authors may not be as comfortable with certain stages, such as research for example? And should those authors maybe source help for those areas? Or do you think it’s kind of all part of the journey they need to complete themselves and recognize that we must all overcome certain challenges and they’d be better for it?
Orna: That’s just a great question and I think it’s something that we need to, it’s a project by project thing to some degree. I would recommend if it’s your first book, that you do everything yourself. Unless there is something that you know you’re really, really bad at, in which case get work arounds, you know? So, research is something but really, you know, all of these stages are part of the final product. When you’ve done a book or two, then you can know ok, this part of the research, I can outsource and this part I need to do myself. But until you’ve done at least, I would say, two books yourself, you don’t understand, I mean, your first book, you’re teaching yourself how to write a book, and, you know, how to write a book is not an easy thing to do. If it was easy, everybody would be doing it and contrary to what we think, not everybody is writing a book these days [laugh]. Or lots of people are starting books but, you know, how many people are finishing all the way through to, you know, an edited piece of work? So, yeah, I think you have to kind of, for the first, now there are, when I say have to, again, advisable, you know, there are exceptions to everything. And I’m thinking of non-fiction writers here, in particular, it may be useful to have somebody who does, you know, what you might call grunt work research and, you know, gives you what you need. But there’s always the, I mean, talk to any writer about their research and they will talk about magic, they will talk about when they started looking for something, the way it lead to something else and then this coincidence happened and, you know? So, it’s all part of the process and the other thing is you are writing a book because it is an important thing in your life. There is something in the doing of this that is important for you as a person. And so, engaging with each step of the process is part of whatever it is, whatever your deep, you know, you may never know or understand why you are driven to write a book but doing it will teach you, you know, what you need to know from the doing of it. So, yeah, just do it I think.
Jerome: Yeah, it’s a form of therapy, isn’t it, to a large degree, yeah [laugh]. Ok, well, I think that’s answered everything I was looking to ask Orna. So, thank you very much, that’s been incredibly insightful and yeah, it’s been an absolute pleasure. Thank you so much.
Orna: Thank you, I really enjoyed doing it and we can answer any questions that anybody may have, just go across to the speaker and sponsor booth, that’s where our comment box is for any questions you might have, specifically about your own project, I’d be delighted to answer them over there. And thanks for a lovely interview Jerome.
Jerome: Good, I’m glad you enjoyed it. Thank you very much and thanks everybody for tuning in.
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.Connect with Orna on Twitter @OrnaRoss
About Indie Author Fringe
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