It took me a lot of time and writing to find my author voice. In today’s show, Roz Morris and I discuss how you can find yours.
In the intro, I report back on my 100km Race to the Stones walk and how ultra-marathons are a bit like writing.
This podcast is sponsored by Kobo Writing Life, which helps authors self-publish and reach readers in global markets through the Kobo eco-system. You can also subscribe to the Kobo Writing Life podcast for interviews with successful indie authors.
Roz Morris is the bestselling author of over a dozen novels as a ghostwriter and has also written My Memories of a Future Life and Lifeform 3 under her own name. She is also an editor and has a series of books for writers under the Nail Your Novel brand, including books on character, plot and editing.
- On the real reason literary fiction takes longer to write than genre fiction.
- How Roz the artist has come to grips with the technical side of offering courses to writers.
- The pros and cons of teaching live vs. online.
- How long it takes for an author to find her voice and the barriers to this process.
- How author brand relates to author voice.
- And how character dialogue differs from author voice.
- On whether Roz thinks dictation could help free up an author’s voice.
- How non-fiction authors can bring their personality to the page.
You can find Roz at www.NailYourNovel.com and on twitter @Roz_Morris
Transcript of Interview with Roz Morris
Joanna: Hi, everyone. I’m Joanna Penn from thecreativepenn.com and today I’m back with Roz Morris. How are you, Roz?
Roz: I’m fine, Jo. How are you?
Joanna: Good. It’s great to have you back on the show. Just a little introduction.
Roz is the best selling author of over a dozen novels, as a ghostwriter. And has also written “My Memories of a Future Life” and “Lifeform Three” under her own name.
She’s also an editor and has a series of books for writers under the “Nail Your Novel” brand, including books on character, plot, and editing. You were last on over a year ago now, so just give us a bit of a catch up.
What have you been up to in the last year, in terms of writing projects and other things?
Roz: An awful lot of teaching, actually. People seem to come along and say, “Come and teach a masterclass in Venice. Come and teach one in Zurich.”
Joanna: Very nice.
Roz: I’ve been teaching for the Guardian, teaching their masterclasses. I’ve been making a course of my own, I recently re-branded the “Nail Your Novel” books with new covers. I just wanted to bring them up to date and give them a fresh look. It’s nice to just send them out in a different outfit.
And I’m also still working on my third novel and sort of trying to carve out bits of time so that I get time to do that too. Because there’s no point in learning all this, unless I use it for my own books as well. So anyway, that’s what I’ve been doing.
Joanna: Let’s just talk about that for a minute, because you write under your own name, you right literary fiction and so your books take longer to come to fruition, as such. And I think it’s wrong to say they take longer to write, because your actual physical writing words on the page bit is probably the same as anyone else’s in the time it takes to write words on a page.
It’s the thinking, isn’t it, that takes you longer?
Roz: Absolutely, that’s a really good way to put it, because if I keep a word count diary, I’m getting down say, on a writing day, 2000 words easily. I have no trouble of getting what’s in here onto the keyboard, but what seems to take much longer is the thinking time and the nuance. I saw Marlon James interviewed recently, about his book.
Joanna: Booker Prize.
Roz: Yes, and he said that he might write 10 pages in order to get a couple of paragraphs that was useful. And it’s because he’s trying to worm his way into what he really wants to do with the material, what he really wants to say. It’s as if the kind of writing he does, and what I’ve known him for, it’s almost as if it’s part way to poetry. Not necessarily in the language, but in all the things that you want the reader to get out of it. So it’s a slower process to write books like that.
And particularly also if you’re thinking, “I could do absolutely anything with this, so I have no parameters.” Unlike if I…as you know I do ghostwriting as well, so if I’m going to write a thriller for somebody, I know it’s got to tick certain boxes. That doesn’t mean that it’s going to be formulaic because I’ll still have to add the pizzaz that will make it original, but it’s far more established what the path will be.
But with the kind of novels that I write, I could take them absolutely anywhere. If I have a murder in the book, it could be used for all sorts of different things. Doesn’t necessarily have to be solved, it might be a way to bring two people together who either go off and do something dangerous, or go off and save the planet, or something far more lower key.
Though there are so few rules that, that makes the writing a longer process and it’s thinking as much as writing as well. But that’s where my teaching comes in quite handy because what I can do is, I can do some teaching or make a course and in the meantime, my novel’s on the back burner and I’ve got loads and loads of little notes and things on my desk which are the things that are piling up that I’m gonna try or think about and discard. So it’s a long process but there’s still a lot going on.
Joanna: And also I think it’s important for…I love talking to you because you have a literary author business model really.
Joanna: Because obviously you can’t make a living with writing just literary fiction in the way that you’re doing. So you’ve made this whole portfolio of different things that you’re doing. It’s interesting you mentioned the course there because, you know, you’ve said to me before, “Oh, I’m not very technical.”
How has someone who is as artistic and wonderful as you, got to grips with the technical side of this?
Roz: A lot of trial and error, and a lot of YouTube. YouTube is fabulous, you can find out how to do so many things.
But part of it came from building on skills I already had so I knew how to put together the content of the course, that was dead easy. Another thing that I knew how to do was record good audio, because another thing I did last year a lot was I did a weekly radio show with a book seller. And we’d sit down in the shop and we’d talked about an aspect of writing and publishing life and then I had to edit those.
So I would have an idea and I’d think, “All right, what do I do with this?” So I had already learned to edit sound files so then the next thing I had to do was to get better quality video and figure out how to edit that, and the kinds of things that I needed to know.
The way that you want to split the content between some video bits, some presentation bits, some exercises to give people stuff to do and and just what’s going to work best for kind of medium, but it was a nice challenge actually. And the tech, it’s probably nowhere near as difficult as it used to be.
Joanna: That’s a really good point because it’s not, and that often holds people back but it doesn’t have to. We’re going to get into the topic of the podcast soon, which is author voice. But I am interested in this; you teach live workshops. You also now have an online course.
What are the pros and cons of doing live verses online?
Roz: I love live because you get feedback from people. The thing that I found most difficult about just delivering my stuff to a camera was that the camera wasn’t going to go, “Ah don’t do that.”
All that kind of feedback you get when you’re giving somebody something, and they suddenly give back to you, this immense light bulb, that’s all missing. So that’s tricky and I did actually follow up the course with some live sessions and that’s great because we could get into discussions and find out what people really wanted.
I like live. I suppose it’s like some musicians say, “I just prefer performing, I don’t want to be stuck behind a microphone with a wall.”
Joanna: But of course the biggest positive of doing something online is global because you and I are both in England.
Roz: Yes, yeah that’s right. Well again, isn’t the internet fabulous? We can just connect with people absolutely everywhere.
When I did the first live sessions of my course, I had people from all the time zones in America and one in Australia and I was having to juggle when I was going to be able to speak to them all at once but, yes, it’s truly global.
Joanna: Today we’re going to be talking about author voice which is, I think, one of those topics that you teach in your classes but also, you know, I think people are very interested in. Let’s start with a definition.
What is author voice, if people don’t know, and what are some examples of authors with a very clear voice?
Roz: The author voices is like somebody’s dress sense or a personal style. It’s what comes through of them that’s uniquely them on the page. It’s things like word choice, the kinds of themes they are interested in, the kinds of subject they’re interested in writing about. The kinds of things that they’ll bring out, it’s all part of their fingerprint on the page.
Joanna: It’s funny you say dress sense, I think of you as someone who has dress sense. I think of me as someone who doesn’t have a dress sense. I just put on my jeans and my hoodie every day and that’s about it. So maybe not dress sense but I like fingerprint, I think fingerprint is a good example.
Who are some authors who you think, “This author has a very clear voice?”
Roz: J K Rowling is a really good example. She’s got a very warm, storytelling kind of voice. And something that comes across with her is you’ve got this sense she’s really enjoying herself on the page and that’s something that a good author voice can do. They can pull you in and make you feel like you’re really in good hands, you’re in the hands of somebody who wants to tell you a story no matter what genre it is.
There is something about them that makes you want to read a bit more because you just like their company. So she is one example, and another example, again in the fantasy genre, is George R R Martin.
He’s got a real sense of things like names, and his sense of wonder at creating a world comes out in things like the names of characters and the names of places. And you often find that, particularly with fantasy writers, any genre where someone will be inventing a lot, including the world, that you can see the real distinctive parts of them in the name that they choose. George R R Martin’s names are not like J K Rowling’s names.
And Jack Vance is another fantasy writer, I’m looking at my fantasy shelf at the moment. But he’s got, again, an extremely fertile imagination and very inventive. And the kind of names that he chooses actually sound a bit more everyday, than the kinds of names that George R R Martin chooses. But it’s all part of that distinctive flavor.
Joanna: I do think nonfiction authors in the same way have exactly the type of voice. Steven Pressfield’s put out his new book, “Nobody Wants to Read your Bleep” which, and it’s so funny because I read and re-read his books over and over again, “Turning Pro” and things. And I can tell his non-fiction voice whereas I don’t read his fiction.
I think one of the important things about voice, and I know that a lot of people who read your non-fiction books and my non-fiction books, who are authors, might not enjoy our fiction, right?
You have a different voice when you are writing non-fiction than you do to when you write fiction. Would you agree with that?
Roz: Yes, and when you’re writing non-fiction, you’re having more of a direct contact, I think, because you are just being yourself as if you are standing there in the room and just being your real you.
If you’re writing fiction, then you are putting on a persona for the book. You’re maybe taking the voice of one of the characters, or maybe you’re being an impartial narrator, or maybe you’re being quite a biased narrator.
But you have a more artistic and performing purpose, really. You’ll take on role, I think, when you write fiction. When you write non-fiction and you might still be taking on the teaching role, but the role will be more just direct, there won’t be so much in the way.
And you’ll probably see that, the contrast actually particularly for both of us, will probably be that when you write your non-fiction books, you’re giving advice, you’re saying, “This is what I do, come with me, come and see how I do it, you can do it too.”
When you write your fiction, you’re doing something entirely different because what you’re doing is you’re building up an atmosphere, you’re trying to find ways to scare people and turn the thumbscrews and build the tension. They are entirely different purposes.
Joanna: I think that’s so important. So then, that’s a sense of what it is.
Why is a voice so important if we want to build a long-term career?
Roz: Going back to what we were saying about it being distinctively you, that is something that readers get attached to. And they might just like what you do in a particular genre or they might think, “I liked that and I just kind of, I like them so I’ll give some of their other books a try.”
You get some authors who can write over a big range of different kinds of genres and readers will follow them because they just think, “I just like what they do.”
On the other hand, you might get readers who say, “Well, I really enjoy their thrillers but cowboy romance novels, no way am I ever reading those.” It’s sort of swings and roundabouts. But the more people like your voice, the more likely they are going to stick with you. Because it becomes something that no one else can give them really.
Joanna: I guess it’s part of the emotional promise to the reader in some way, although you talk there about people moving genre. I think about Stephen King and I can generally pick a Stephen King passage from a pace away, he has a very distinctive voice as someone who’s read a lot of King, but I don’t like all his books. But I will generally give them a go because it’s him and that loyalty comes from it.
And I was just thinking there about literally authors, because one of the big questions I get from literary authors in particular is, “I don’t write series, I only write stand alone.”
Can author voice be the thing that links books for literary authors so that people do follow them?
Roz: Yes, it definitely can because it’s not just the kinds of words they use, it’s the sensibility behind them. So it’s the things they’re interested in. The things they’ve read and might have learned from.
It’s a lot more than just the superficial aspect of how the sentences are constructed. It’s the mind behind it, and that’s very much more important in literary fiction because it’s more individual. It’s more about how the writer responded to the material when they’d had the idea. The kinds of things they notice about people, all that becomes part of the voice.
It’s a really big subject actually. Voice is like the end product of a lot of other deep stuff that’s going on.
Joanna: Okay, so that’s important to you because I really feel that I didn’t find my voice, my fiction voice, until I wrote “Desecration” which was my fifth novel. Because, I think, I wasn’t necessarily going deep enough, I wasn’t maybe being honest, I was self-censoring. I was worried about what people think of me if I wrote some things. I’m a nice girl, how could I write dark stuff?
Do you think that author voice takes time to come out, from what you’ve seen of authors? Does it just take a number of books?
Roz: It does. It takes a long time, and it’s interesting that you mention “Desecration” because I remember when you were bringing it out, you were nervous about it. You said that this felt more personal and that you’d gone deeper. And you do need to do that in order to find a kind of genuine voice, because you’ve got to be willing to take chances.
The more personal something is, the more it’s really it’s really unique to you. And you’ve got to strike a balance between bringing that out and going over the top and being self-indulgent. But it’s difficult to get the balance and what you have to do really is just spend a lot of time writing with the curtains closed.
Don’t worry about anyone reading it, just have a go at things. As soon as you read someone you really like who makes you think, “I wish I could do that.” Go and try and write something. Because what you’ll probably find is you’ll be expressing yourself in a slightly different way.
It’s as if the writing that you really like somehow seeped into your mind, like a dye, and made you a little bit different. It can make you look at things in a different way, express yourself in a different way. So go and try that and after a while you’ll probably find you can’t keep it up but there will be certain things that you will start to keep as part of your style.
And you don’t have to worry about anyone reading it because this is just experimenting for you. But that is the way that a lot of us build our styles.
And going back to what you were saying about the kinds of things I see; what I see quite a lot is people who have put a manuscript together over a quite long period. And they’ve had phases where they were reading such and such. They say they were reading certain things. And they kept changing their minds about what they thought the book should be or how they should express themselves and you can sometimes see this.
It’s like stratified layers, you say, “Oh, right that’s me, the Graham Greene phase, and that’s the Robert Harris.” And you can’t quite choose which to do. And you can see that they’re inching their way towards a style that they hope will become them.
That is the way to learn. I often compare it with handwriting. When I was a kid at school, whenever I saw anybody’s handwriting that I thought looked interesting, I’d think, “I want my handwriting to look like that, I’m fed up of my handwriting. I want to look like that.” So I would try and imitate their handwriting and I couldn’t keep it up for very long but there were certain things that I did keep up and they stayed with me and it became part of my style because, I thought, I liked that way of expressing, and it seems to fit with me.
And that is how I found I learned my writing style. That I was absorbing things then discarding them but something stayed. And eventually it came to the stage where I was a new thing, that wasn’t anybody else but I had learned by trying lots of things. That’s the problem with them.
Joanna: It’s funny because it explains to me how you become a ghostwriter because I never did that with handwriting. In fact my signature, I came up with my signature, which is just an unintelligible squiggle, when I was about 12. And it was unintelligible on purpose because I figured if I ever changed my name, I could just keep the same signature.
And that has served me so well over the years since I got remarried, divorced and all that. It’s so funny, but it’s interesting you said that so you learned to copy different people’s handwriting, which is what you basically have done as a ghostwriter as well. You’ve copied people’s voice.
Joanna: So you’re actually someone who’s super sensitive to that, which is really interesting. But also you talked there about how you, not copying as in we are talking about stealing, not copying, not plagiarism. It’s always important to say that when we are using other people’s writing.
When I wrote the first short stories I did for the launch of Dan Brown’s “Inferno”, I wanted them to be Lovecraftian and so I read loads of Lovecraft and I literally I would copy down words and phrases and mood words and I wouldn’t even do whole sentences. They would just be different words, different colors of what I felt when I was writing it.
I had this almost cheat sheet of Lovecraftian things which I could then use in my own writing that would give it that tone. And then of course I haven’t written directly like that.
But as you say it kind of stays with you, doesn’t it?
Roz: Yes. That’s really a good way to do it and it makes you notice things. The only reason I ever started noticing these kinds of things was that I would read something and think, “I would love to have said that and I don’t know what it is about that phrase but I just like it.”
And you’ve been quite analytical so you’ve written down descriptions and so on and this is something that I used to do as a ghostwriter. What I would do is I would think, “How am I going to convey the essence this person so that it looks like they wrote the book?”
And through talking to them I would find I was absorbing their way of describing things, that’s a very important thing to pick up. Their world view, the kinds of things they thought were important, what they would say was remarkable about something if they’d seen it. So all this builds up…it’s their mentality on the page.
Joanna: So those are some ideas for kind of finding your voice. And I have mentioned self-censorship.
Are there other things that stop people from finding their voice?
Roz: That’s a tricky question because I think we all evolve as writers all the time and it’s impossible not to. I don’t think there’s any person who enjoys writing, who isn’t changing all the time actually. And that might be in the way they express themselves or it might be in the kinds of things they become interested in writing about.
And this is why it seems a bit of a pity that the publishing trade has relied on the fact that people will churn out the same genres again and again and again, because we do some things and then we think, “Actually I’ve now become interested in something else, because I’m a different person or because I read something new that made me think, ‘Oh new ideas, take them in a new way.’ ”
I do think we are all developing all the time. I’m sure my voice now is different from my voice three years ago. It’s probably not as different is it was 10 years ago, but it’s probably still changing. Evelyn Waugh is a good example actually, Evelyn Waugh, Brideshead Revisited, he wrote Brideshead Revisited quite early on in his career.
Much later he did a preface for it when it was re-released. He said, “I rather cringe at the way I expressed myself, I thought I really overdid it.” And we find there are different ways we want to express ourselves throughout our whole lives. And I think anyone who enjoys playing with words and telling stories will be in a lifelong situation of change and development.
Joanna: I was reflecting on this in the “Author Mindset” book I did about how the visual art world understands this a lot more than publishing. I went to the Picasso Museum in Malaga and they have his early work from when he was a child, like 10 years old, through the various phases of his development all the way to when he was in his 90s.
And there was no weight on the masterpieces, as in there were just as many terrible pieces of pottery as they were amazing pieces of cubist art, or whatever. I think the visual art world understands the development of the artist a lot more and kind of says, “Well, that was this period and that was this period.”
Whereas there seems to being in publishing this focus on the debut author and best-selling hit book and as you say then the repetition of that same thing.
And then if people change, it used to be that they would make you change your author name, right? Because that was the brand.
Roz: Yes, yes. Like Barbara Vine and Ruth Rendell and actually I can’t tell much difference between Barbara Vines and Ruth Rendells.
Joanna: No, I can’t. I don’t think so either, Nora Roberts and J D Robb, as well would be two different names. They are two different genres, romance versus mystery but again I think the voice is the same.
I think maybe brand and voice is different.
Roz: Also it depends how you have branded yourself. When I came out with my first novel it was a weird thing anyway so I could probably be allowed to write another weird thing and that will be all right. So long as it had that kind of unexpected aspect to it and was literary, then that’s my brand.
You didn’t ever think of changing your name, did you? You were always…well you were Joanna Penn to start with, weren’t you?
Joanna: Yes, I was and then I switched to J F Penn, because it is a different audience, for my fiction. It is a very different audience to my non-fiction. And I’m very happy with that decision, it frees me up. I feel much freer as J F Penn than Joanna Penn; it’s different.
I’ve got some ideas for other things that I would like to write, that I possibly would use another name for as well.
I think you can use brand and author name to help readers find things that have a similar author voice, maybe that’s a way of putting it.
Roz: Yes, so your cowboy romances might be…
Joanna: My cowboy romances will not be under J F Penn. And neither would yours, I presume?
Joanna: Be under J F Penn or Roz Morris?
Roz: Yes, it would have to sound American to start with all they wouldn’t believe me.
Joanna: Okay so coming back to it.
How does author voice differ from character dialogue? Because I think maybe some people get confused.
Roz: Yes. The author voice is just all the narration really, because it’s all the text that’s telling a story. The characters are entities in their own right and you show what they’re like and what they are thinking and feeling by what they say and do.
You generally want the characters to be coming through as distinct from the narrator. Unless you want the reader to think, “Ah, I’m a bit suspicious about this, because it sounds like the character is not being allowed to speak for themselves.” You might want that aspect too, but generally it is expected that your characters will have different voices from the narrator.
And Ruth Rendell, again, actually is really good example of this. One of her of her novels, “The Keys to the Street” has about five or six different narrators. Each chapter, it cycles through them and together it adds up to the story and sometimes they meet each other and so on. But each chapter is narrated from the viewpoint of one person and she’s very good at getting into the mindsets of lots of different people.
That book is a great example of how to make characters distinct from each other, because she’ll have one guy who’s very well educated, speaks in quite long sentences with subclauses. One guy who is a builder and a bit of a criminal is just very short, sharp, definite about everything.
And there you see the variety of voices that you might have within one book. Now, what she might have done if she’d written the book differently, she might have written it as Ruth Rendell doing the narration and then what each person said in scenes. So that would be the difference between the author voice for that book and the characters when they’re allowed to speak to themselves.
Joanna: And I just though of two more examples of voices. I don’t know if you have read this, but “World War Z.” Have you read that?
Roz: Yeah. It’s on my shelf, it’s something I’m going to look at, yeah.
Joanna: Yeah, by Max Brooks. The book is nothing like the movie. The book is amazing. It’s written from…I don’t even know how many character viewpoints but when I read it I was like, “How did he do this? How did he come up with this many characters reporting on the zombie wars?” It’s basically it’s sort of war reportage after the fact, and this is a fantastic book.
And the other book, and I don’t think you liked this book, “The Slap” by Christos Tsiolkas.
Roz: Oh no, I hate that book.
Joanna: We’ve had this discussion before, but that’s another book that’s sticks in my head as it’s written from all these different perspectives. And I think because it’s an Australian book and I was in Australia for years, it resonated very much of, “Oh, my goodness that is an exact replica of an Australian suburb.”
Joanna: But it has very different voices and yet the author’s voice, I think, is also very strong, because I’ve read some of his other books and I can hear his opinion across the whole book.
Why didn’t you like that book?
Roz: I felt the characters weren’t that distinct from each other.
Joanna: Oh, really? Oh, how funny.
Roz: And they all had very similar habits. So if they were sort of getting dressed in the morning and having a think about all of the things that were annoying them, because a lot of people are annoyed in that book.
Joanna: Oh, it’s all about being annoyed.
Roz: Yeah, they all did the same things. So they’d have just the same tics and mannerisms and I found that very obvious. Actually it’s a while since I read it now, but there were quite a few things that made me think I was actually seeing the same character over and over again but just given different names and different life circumstances.
Joanna: Well, there you go. So everyone listening, you can see that people respond differently to different books. Which I think is very important to realize for all of our writing. That’s cool.
I also want to just to ask about whether you think dictation could be a way for people to free up their writing and maybe have their voice emerge more?
Roz: The crucial thing is this idea of freeing yourself, because that’s where we do need to find some way of taking the brakes off.
When you sit down to write, don’t think someone’s going to see it. Just think, “I’m just going to write a bit.” And dictation software might be the key.
It might be that you find it easier to just go and walk in the park and talk to your device, as though you are talking on a phone.
I did actually try, for a while, dictating into one of these things because I thought it would be a good way to just get to get the thoughts casually down about what I’m going to do with the next scene. I felt more inhibited than if I’d just sat down at the computer. It all depends on what you find easy.
But going back to voice and different voices, and particularly in fiction. You might find that the voice you use for one kind of novel is different from the voice you use for another kind of novel because the whole atmosphere of it might be different. So again you might have quite a few voices in your repertoire, a bit like an actor playing comedy sometimes, tragedy another time. Or one kind of character and another another kind of character that…but don’t be surprised if different books seem to bring different things out of you.
And if you do notice that, it’s a good thing to go with. Just see what happens because what we really want to do is train our instincts. And we get to the stage where we’re not so much following directions or trying to imitate what someone else did that we admired, we get to the stage where we’re actually following our gut, and it’s one of the phases when you suddenly realize you’re going with your gut more. Then you realize, “Oh right, maybe I’ve learned quite a bit after all.”
Joanna: I know what you mean and you just have to trust that, when it starts to happen just go with it as opposed to you putting the brakes on.
Also I find that doing fast first draft has helped me with this a lot because you’re in that world so you can get it out and quickly, while staying in the zone, because both you and I do all kinds of other things other than write fiction.
It’s so easy for me to be pulled out of the fiction mindset, into other things, that I find doing that first draft faster helps. I know that’s different to your process.
Roz: Well no, I still do the first draft fast, actually. I do a lot of thinking, make a lot of notes, I make diagrams, put cards out with everything and sit and stare at them for ages and think, “I’ll have that before that because that makes that stronger,” and so on.
But when I’m drafting, as I said at the beginning, I put my hands on the keys 2000 words later and I just stream into the keyboard. And I often find there’s some surprising stuff that comes out of that, do you find that too?
Joanna: Oh yeah, and you just like, “Oh okay, cool.” That’s the cool stuff.
Roz: It often is and it’s often, when you really hit a scene and you think, “I’m going to go with this and see what I get. And oh that character said something I didn’t expect and didn’t plan but it’s good. And I found this way of using this idea which I wasn’t consciously doing but that fits and that’s good.”
There’s often a lot of really good stuff in the rough work. And the rough work is a good way to tap into. It’s like being in a medium.
Joanna: I don’t get dictation but I do know an author now who gets dictation in her head and wakes up and says, “Oh, the characters are just talking to me and I write it down.” And I’m like, “Yeah, I’ve never had that.” That is not what happens to me.
Roz: I get moments of rebellion actually. I like running. I’m running with headphones on and I’ll be running along and it’s a combination of music plus exhaustion and I’m wishing I could stop, so it puts me in more of a focused frame of mind.
That’s the point where I suddenly think maybe, “This character wouldn’t do that, they want to do this.” So those urges where a character seems to refuse to do what you want, that’s a useful thing to listen to. Again it’s gut, it’s gut instinct.
Joanna: Just one more question on non-fiction. Because I know a lot of people listening are writing non-fiction and you and I also write non-fiction.
What are some of the ways that the voice emerges on the page for non-fiction? How can people, instead of just writing a manual as such? How do you bring your personality and your voice to non-fiction?
Roz: There are lots of ways of doing it, but it’s what kind of persona you’re being. Are you being somebody who is quite dry and precise and does that suit what you are writing? It might do.
Or are you trying to be inspirational? So how will you make your material inspirational as well instructional?
I really like looking at recipe book writers like Nigella Lawson and Nigel Slater, because what they do is they give you this immense enthusiasm.
Saying, “You can go make things and isn’t it exciting? And I’ve got this punnet of raspberries and it just seems to have this bloom on it. And I put this divine, thick cream with it and the raspberries.
Joanna: Yeah, that’s Nigella cooking.
Roz: Nigel Slater does it too. What they do is they both make you want to go and cook things or just find something simple and make it into something very enjoyable.
They are extreme example so at the one end of the scale you probably have Delia Smith, who is very reassuring and very correct. But when you have Nigel Slater, then he’s all about the enthusiasm and the love.
It’s a question of working out what you like, what your persona is and how to bring that out. Because a non-fiction book doesn’t have to be dry.
Joanna: In fact I think they can’t be dry anymore. I think the movement in non-fiction is much more towards personal anecdote and storytelling.
I heard Malcolm Gladwell on Tim Ferris’ podcast and Malcolm Gladwell has said biggest thing for him has been learning how to do storytelling in a better way. And in fact he started his own podcast now in order to do storytelling in a voice way. Which is fascinating.
I’m not a massive cook but I do have few cook books. Rick Stein is someone who talks a lot about what it means to him and his memories of this particular dish. I think bringing that personal anecdote and that authentic authenticity and truth from your life.
My “Author Mindset” book has excerpts from my own diaries in which is very personal and quite scary again, in a way. But that brings the author voice into non-fiction in a very honest way, I guess.
Roz: Yes, and that’s also what makes you distinctly you. You’ve revealed something of yourself, you’ve put something in that book so no one else could do because it’s you.
I did the same with “Nail Your Novel” actually. I had quite a lot of personal anecdotes in there about ways in which I completely goofed while trying to write something and what I’d learned as a result.
Joanna: Exactly, that’s super important. Okay, so we are pretty much out of time, but we’ve talked a little bit about some of your books and your course. Just tell people what they can find at your website and a bit about your course.
Roz: Well at my website, which is nailyournovel.com, you can find blog posts about the writing and publishing life, all sorts of things whatever catches my interest and I’d like to talk to people about. And recently I did a piece about Unbound, the crowdfunding publisher and that’s had quite a lot of interest because it’s a new method of publishing.
Sometimes it’s that, sometimes it’s writing tips.
I’ve also got my novels and you can find your way to those from the same website. And I have a course about how to ghostwrite because so many people ask me all the time, “How do I start ghostwriting? What does the job involve?”
Or there might be people who’ve been approached by someone who would like a ghostwriter and they think, “This could be a good new career for me but I don’t really know how to do it.” I decided I would put all those questions people ask me into the course. And you can find that as well in the sidebar of the nailyournovel.com.
Joanna: If people want to hire a ghostwriter, do you have like a directory of ghostwriters now or is something you might build up over time? Because it’s definitely something that I think people could use.
Roz: I haven’t thought of doing that. I have my own ghostwriting page and if somebody pitches something to me that I’m not suitable for, then I’ve got friends that I can approach behind the scenes. But I hadn’t thought of a register.
Joanna: It would be right for you to do that, because it will bring people to your page and your services first but obviously you can’t ghostwrite everyone’s books. You can’t do everyone’s, so I think it’s a nice way and I think it’s interesting because of course different people connect with different people. And I imagine with ghostwriting, you have to connect with your ghostwriter and you have to connect with your client in order to do a great job.
And we should say that your type of ghostwriting is not the “get rich quick on kindle by paying someone to write your book really fast and then getting it out there” that’s not what you’re talking about, is it?
Roz: No, I have ghostwritten for the major publishers, books whose identities I can never reveal because they meant to be written by other people. It’s a very confidential kind of business. But these were all funded by big publishers so they had good marketing mechanisms behind them and they were high-profile people who I was writing as. But everyone is different and again, you’re right that one of the very important things is that you get on really well with the ghost.
And I just found it fascinating to be so privileged as to get the real inside story on what their lives were like. And they will tell you some quite personal things and you feel like you’ve got quite a responsibility to do well by them. And you write the book they would write, if they could write.
Joanna: I think what we should also take from that is that a lot of best selling books on the best seller list are ghostwritten aren’t they these days?
Roz: They are and you would be shocked, really shocked, because it’s not just non-fiction.
Joanna: Oh yeah, I know that. It is funny, isn’t it when you see, especially when you see some celebrity, it’s just like, “There’s no way they wrote that.”
Roz: Yeah, they wrote a book with their foot while they were doing something else.
Joanna: But they were really busy. Yeah, anyway so really fascinating stuff. It’s always great to talk to you. So your website again, just so people know.
Roz: nailyournovel.com or you can find me on twitter. I’m roz, that’s R-O-Z-UNDERLINE-Morris, M-O-R-R-I-S.
Joanna: Fantastic, thanks so much, Roz.
Roz: Thanks for having me.