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How To Be Creative In Writing And In Business with Orna Ross

    Categories: Author Entrepreneur

Tapping into our creativity around writing and around money can free us to pursue a more holistic and fulfilled life, and in today’s show, Orna Ross talks about how to use F-R-E-E writing to break through your creative and money blocks.

In the introduction, I give a personal update about my new screenplay adaptation of Map of Shadows, as well as what I’m doing towards being a Healthy Writer.

Plus, if you want to write a novel, then click here to get your free 7 Steps to Write your Novel Cheatsheet.

Today’s show is sponsored by IngramSpark, who I use to print and distribute my print-on-demand books to 39,000 retailers including independent bookstores, schools and universities, libraries and more. It’s your content – do more with it through IngramSpark.com.

Orna Ross is a best selling and award-winning author of historical and literary fiction, a poet, and a nonfiction author of the “Go Creative” series. She’s the founder of the Alliance of Independent Authors, and has been named one of the “100 Most Influential People in Publishing,” by “The Bookseller,” the trade magazine of UK Publishers.

You can listen above or on iTunes or Stitcher or watch the video here, read the notes and links below. Here are the highlights and full transcript below.

Show Notes

  • Orna explains F-R-E-E writing and why it matters for creatives
  • Writing a letter to money. And receiving one back!
  • How Orna’s own journey is reflected in her Go Creative series of books
  • Balancing all the aspects of a creative person, including the business side
  • The important skill for young people to learn to carry them through life

You can find Orna at OrnaRoss.com and on Twitter @OrnaRoss. You can find the Go Creative series here.

Transcript of Interview with Orna Ross

Joanna: Hi everyone, I’m Joanna Penn from TheCreativePenn.com. And today, I’m back with Orna Ross. Hi, Orna.

Orna: Hi, Joanna. Hello, everyone.

Joanna: So just a little introduction.

Orna is a best selling and award-winning author of historical and literary fiction, a poet, and a nonfiction author of the “Go Creative” series. She’s the founder of the Alliance of Independent Authors, and has been named one of the “100 Most Influential People in Publishing,” by “The Bookseller,” the trade magazine of UK Publishers.

She’s also my friend and creative mentor, and I’m thrilled to have her back on the show. Orna, this must be your fourth time on the podcast.

Orna: It must be and not the first time to talk about this book series, so it’s kind of interesting.

Joanna: Yeah, it’s great. And I think one of the things we always talk about is how things change in our journey, but one of the things that doesn’t seem to change for you and is the foundation of your practice is freewriting.

I wonder if you could talk about what freewriting is, and why you think it’s one of the most powerful ways to access the subconscious?

Orna: Well, yes, indeed, love to talk about freewriting any time. It is free, is, F-R-E-E, so it is a fast writing method.

You write as fast as you can and because you’re writing very quickly the words will come out raw. And raw in both senses; you don’t care about punctuation, spelling, any of the things that your English teacher would have given you a whack at the neck back in my day for getting wrong.

You forget about all of that, you’re interested only in opening up really to what’s rising through you so it reverses the normal, and the way people approach writing.

And particularly, we write for other people, but writing for self is a very different experience. A lot of people approach the pen, because they have been through a schooling system that can be quite punishing, approach the pen and paper, or the laptop, or whatever approach to the written word with a lot of tension, and a lot of preconceived ideas, and so on.

So the aim of freewriting is to write so fast that you get beyond that. You get beyond what in the “GO Creative” series I call the calm mind, which is the surface chattering mind and open a channel for the subconscious to rise.

Generally, what happens in a session is you start off actually writing from the surface mind, and emotions will come out, whatever’s bothering you at the time.

But about halfway through, usually you settle into a rhythm. You can see the writing often changes shape on the page, or if I’m watching people do it in a workshop scenario I can see their bodies begin to kind of relax, and the flow gets going, and that’s what you’re aiming for.

The reason I use it all the time, myself, every day, and I pass it on to everybody who will stop and listen to me, is because I actually do think we take writing for granted. We’ve forgotten how extremely powerful it is.

And if you look at any of the research into fast writing, expressive writing, this type of writing for self, it’s quite extraordinary what it’s able to achieve. It’s being used now as medicine for post-traumatic stress syndrome, for physical ailments like arthritis, for example. A very short course of freewriting can actually cure physical ailments.

And it definitely is the cure for the sort of mind nonsense that can come between you and the thing you really want to do with your life. Because I work with writers, as you know, and other creative entrepreneurs, helping them to actually do what they most want to do.

Anybody who’s in that position knows the second you try to do what you most want to do, another part of you jumps back up and tries to stop you. And freewriting for me is the most powerful tool we have to dissolve resistance, daily freewriting will keep you in flow.

Joanna: We talked there about F and R, I think, you didn’t describe what the two Es are.

Orna: E and E is exact but easy. And what that is talking about is drawing on the experience of your own life. So being precise about the essential detail, if you like, of the moment that you’re in as you’re writing, or the moment that you’re writing about.

When we write, again, for self or for others, we very often concentrate on our feelings. What we’re feeling about something, we’ll use a lot of adjectives, or if we do get into a sort of a sense perception it tends to be psyched.

‘Exact’ encourages people to be very precise about what they’re seeing, yes, but also hearing, and smelling, tasting, the full sensory experience. They’re the outer senses.

And then the inner senses also of imagining what if, and allowing room for insight to rise as well. So that’s where exact and easy comes in. It takes a little bit of training. And writing fast and raw can happen automatically. Exact and easy takes a little bit of time.

And it can feel contradictory. On the one hand, saying, write very fast, on the other hand, saying be exact. But the overall thing to remember is to take it easy, and to let it be. So it’s an allowing, sort of, thing. It’s an accepting what rises rather than trying to control from the top-down.

Joanna: It needs to be timed. Is that correct?

Orna: Time or space. The “F-R-E-E-Writing Notebook” that accompanies the “Go Creative” series that allows for three pages a day, or else you set a time.

It’s very important to finish the space or time allocation that you’ve set aside. It’s the same with meditation, or exercise, or anything like that you’ve set yourself to do. Very often when the end is in sight is when you begin to guess the benefits, and wandering away, or indeed overdoing it, and going past the time is not the practice.

The practice is to set yourself, your intention, around what it is you’re going to do. Three pages for most people is about 20 minutes. And that can sound like a lot, but actually, it gives you back so much time by doing it. Just in the sense of clarity that you get, the way in which you find your day is far more organized, you’re much more connected to what’s most important to you. That 20 minutes actually gets you back hours and hours and whole lifetimes in some ways.

Joanna: It’s interesting because I see that as almost how I start writing fiction as well as how I would start writing, well, anything.

I think timed writing of any kind is the secret to being a successful writer. Because if you can’t sit down and write something, you’re going to struggle. So it’s interesting that the timing is important, but also the questions that you ask.

I don’t do a daily practice like that, and some people, maybe it doesn’t suit them daily, but I do a kind of sporadic when I need to answer a question.

I think the question “What do you really want to do with your life?” is one example of an interesting question.

What are some the questions that people could be asking themselves if they want to try freewriting? And how do they spark that first sentence because that can sometimes be the hardest thing?

Orna: Oh, yes, the blank page. Well, there are lots and lots of exercises in the “F-R-E-E-Writing” book which is part of the series. But it really very much depends on want you want to do with it.

I do encourage people to just turn up to the page, to say go, and see what arises. That’s really quite scary. But when you do it you realize that your mind is always producing thoughts, just like your lungs are always producing breath, and your mind produces thoughts. It cannot help but do that.

If you do find it scary and you find that you can’t, you can actually write, “I can’t think what to write, I can’t think what to write, I can’t think what to write,” until a coherent thought rises. So that’s what we would call free freewriting.

And then there is what you’re talking about there which, would be focused freewriting where you’d concentrate in on something specific. As we’re talking a lot to writer and to the audience, it’s not actually writers who are going to be listening to this, you could bring your latest and create a challenge in your book.

Your character’s not doing what they want to do, or you want to get to know your character better. A great exercise for developing character is to imaginatively stretch your character out on a sofa, and you are a psychoanalyst, and you ask the questions, and you just take dictation from your character and write it down.

That can be a really great way of getting to know them in ways that are, you know, kind of deep, and meaningful, and useful.

But honestly, you can use it for anything in your life. If you have any issue that’s driving you crazy, bring it to “The F-R-E-E-Writing Notebook.” The wonderful thing about the notebook is that if you’re going to a therapist, or somebody else, a healer, or somebody for help their energy comes in as well. And it’s very much by the relationship with them and so on.

And sometimes you can be pushed more than you’re comfortable with or not brought on as fast. The notebook meets you where you are, and you can’t pass yourself out, it’s a very safe place. So really and truly you can bring anything you want to it, whatever you want to focus on that day.

Joanna: I’ve been to several of your workshops, we’ve obviously done workshops together. And one of the exercises I found very powerful, and many people do struggle with, and then they’re like, “This was the best thing I’ve ever done,” even though they struggle with it, is the letter to money.

And what I think is important to stress with your creative process and the “Go Creative” series, is that money, and a side that many authors struggle with, is actually part of what you’re talking about, “How To Create Anything,” that also includes money and wealth.

Talk about the letter to money.

What is it? And if people were going to do it what would they do? And what are the common issues that you see coming up out of that exercise?

Orna: Yes, it’s always a powerful one. And you’re absolutely right, money is key to this whole series. It turns up all over the place. There is a book just devoted to the relationship with money called “Creating Money, Creating Meaning.”

But actually, as I’m going back through these books which are now very much directed at creative entrepreneurs, I find money just jumping up all over the place. So that’s really interesting.

And I find the relationship that people have with money so, so compelling, and so interesting, and so revealing of lots of other things that are going on in their lives, and in their businesses obviously. So, yeah, it’s very simple.

I say write a letter to money. Tell money what you think of it, go. And they look really startled, and then they have to write because they’re at the top of the room saying, “You must do this.”

And so they write to money. And very often it starts in quite a negative place, or fads for some people, or there might be anger. But quite strong emotions arise in this letter.

And then, of course, there’s the second part, we go through various things in the day, but later on, depending on how long the workshop is, one of the last things I will do is actually ask them then to dictate a letter from money to them. And that’s when I think a lot of the revelations appear and when people begin to understand that this is a relationship.

None of us has been given a very good grounding in relating to money, and there is so much psychic baggage carried around this. But we grow up with whatever baggage our parents brought in to us to start with, plus our own socio-economic history, our own work history, and so on.

And as creators, very often we have been positioned as the opposite to money, the anti-money in a way.

Really, we’re creative, and spiritual, and inaugurate, and removed from all of that. And money is grubby and over there. And this is one of the great myths, and it is so damaging. It has been so damaging to creators, to women, to everybody who is in a sense considered not to be part of the worldly world but which is the vast majority of people. It’s crazy.

It’s one of my missions, to actually try and get people into positive connection and positive relationship with money. Because I say, how you do money is how you do life. And that is because money is empty, it’s just energy. It’s just a symbol of your exchange with the world. And essentially, you offer out something, somebody gives you money, or you hand over money and somebody gives you something back in exchange for that.

But because it’s empty and purely symbolic, it carries an awful lot of emotional resonance. And that can be negative, but it can just as easily be positive. And sometimes that letter and exchange between money and the person, and the person and money, is completely liberating. It’s enough. It’s enough to change people. And sometimes it’s not. Sometimes it takes more than that.

Joanna: I think the personification of money helps, even just the idea of that. Like starting a letter, “Dear money,” You’re like, “Oh my goodness,” that completely changes the way you think about it.

And to me, it makes it quite friendly to be honest, because I don’t write letters like that unless it’s kind of like a friendly thing. But it’s interesting because I’ve done it two years in a row and my letters have changed in a year. I was positive about money and I’m now even more positive about money.

But it’s interesting because my letter from money back to me is even more friendly and more welcoming. And also it’s interesting we talk about collaboration, and my letter from money said, “I want to collaborate with you more, and help you do more.”

This is not a political show, but the money and politics right now is also wound up in some negativity around wealthy people X, poor people Y. And these things become very emotional and very over-the-top.

Whereas actually, the people who can form the most change in the world, are often the people with the most money too. So we look at the biggest philanthropists, and a lot of the change that’s happening through giving wealth away. So it’s so interesting to think about re-framing all these different things.

Why do creatives have such an issue with this, and how can they get over it?

Orna: I honestly do think because it’s a taught thing. I blame the romantic movement because up to there, there was a much more workmanlike understanding that created the artisan, and the cross-person was a group of people who got on with it, and did what they did.

And then there was the romantic movement which enshrined this idea of God in nature, and the creative genius. So many myths that are so difficult for creators to get over. And indeed, fell a lot of people so that they never get over it, were born at that time. And we were all brought up in that, and kind of saturated in it.

People love to polarize things anyway, it makes everything very simple if that’s over there and that’s over there. But it’s not like that at all. It’s an intimate relationship, and everything is a relationship, and everything is interconnected.

And now that we have an understanding of life through quantum physics, and through the Internet, and through all sorts of other things where we understand the importance of collaboration and interconnection.

I was reading yesterday or the day before for an article that I’m doing about the birth of human creativity. It is now very much, the evidence really does, it’s been thought about for a while, but the evidence is just mounting and mounting that it actually emerged at a time where for the first time there were a lot of human beings in interrelationship.

And language, again, is key. They gave a task to children, chimps, and another primate, I can’t remember which type, and set them a task. And they found that the children were able to do the task. The primates were not able to do the task, and the reason was collaboration, connection, talking about it, helping each other, encouraging each other, showing each other how it’s done.

Exactly what we do in our life and all the other creative groups that are forming on the Internet at the moment. And that’s why we are in the middle of such a creative flowering.

I haven’t forgotten your question, to go back to the question you actually asked, we’ve got to take this in, and we have to transform our thinking. And freewriting is actually a brilliant way to do that, but so is listening to the people who are actually creating, and the people who are producing, are people who have left these myths go, they’ve dissolved them for themselves.

They’ve felt the fear and done it anyway. They chose themselves to put themselves forward, they’re doing the work, they’re making it happen. They’re not waiting for permission, they are breaking chains that they have been taught to have.

I’m hopeful that the new generation coming up now, won’t have as many chains around their creativity as my generation had. I think yours had a bit less, and the next one a bit less again.

But there will always be psychic chains. It’s part of being a human being, and the creator’s job is always to dissolve those as much as possible. So be gone, silly myths that get in our way. We have to start there. Nobody can do that for you. And until you do that, you don’t really get going.

Joanna: I think a lot of writing nonfiction now is also sharing our personal journey. It can’t just be prescriptive anymore so we have to share our own writing. And I certainly share some of my freewriting, my journals, in my nonfiction books. And it’s often those parts that really help people.

So I wondered about you, because you and I have been talking about this “Go Creative Series” for, oh, it must be like three years, and you’ve been…

Orna: Five maybe.

Joanna: Five maybe, and you’ve been working in this industry a long time. You’re also Irish which has a very protected view of literature and a lot of grants. So there is quite a poverty mindset around stuff in Ireland with literature.

And you’re a poet which has this history of poverty. Although again, Instagram poets now like Rupi Kaur and people are doing very, very well.

How has your own journey been reflected in this “Go Creative” series? And has there been a big shift in you over this time?

Orna: Yes, in short, and the reason it has taken so long and gone through so many… this is the third… not the third draft but 103rd draft. But it’s actually the third major shift in the books.

And they have to wait, in a sense, for me to catch up with them, and catch up with myself, and understand what was going on. And that was the delay in the twists and the turns. I started in the wrong place, in a sense. If I was starting now, they would be written clearly and cleanly.

But I began, as you say, I grew up in Ireland. When I went to school I completely fell in love with the written word. It was my savior in so many ways. I was in boarding school and all sorts of situations.

I just escaped into books, and then escaped into my own writing. And it was absolutely fantastic, and I was in love with words. But I never for a second thought I could be a writer. Writers were James Joyce, and W.B. Yeats. They were dead, they were white, and they were definitely male, and old, and imperious, and scary.

It didn’t even cross my mind. The closest I could even think about coming to it was to teach English literature. So that’s what I went to college to train to do, and that’s where I started. And then I did make a life in the written word, and I have worked in this area for a long time.

I did realize that what I was interested in, was not just the word but the process itself, the actual creative process is endlessly fascinating. It’s the one topic that I never grow tired of. I just can’t get enough of still even after all these years.

I had to unlearn a fierce amount of things because I also came up through trade publishing and literary fiction, historical fiction, poetry. These are the genres where thinking is very tight. Where there’s a lot of judgment and there is a lot of, in some cases, snobbery.

I carried some unconscious things like that, myself, without even knowing that I did. And that’s why self-publishing, and the world of self-publishing, and the creative entrepreneur world generally has been so liberating for me. But it just took me a while longer than it should have, but there you go, better late than never.

Joanna: There are some people who write nonfiction as a business card for their other work. A lot of business people will have a book or a speaker will have a book. But us as also fiction writers and people who write to understand what the hell we think. You’ve been working out what you think, so we write nonfiction almost to help ourselves, and then at the end of the process, we’ve worked it out, and then we can help other people.

I almost feel sometimes that fiction is not selfish or not self-centered. All these words have negative connotations. But it’s focused on what I actually care about most. Actually, I don’t care what other people think when I write my fiction, and then I put it out in the world, and it falls through the cracks in genre and whatever.

But my nonfiction, I do want to help other people, so I have to structure it in a way that is a journey for them.

How do you balance those different sides in you, the poet, the literary writer, the fiction writer, the nonfiction writer?

Orna: It’s very simple for me, mornings and afternoons. So first thing in the morning is when poetry and fiction, or what I would call deep writing. Because sometimes the style of nonfiction that I do also draws on that place. And some parts it are quite practical and, are more hard-headed.

And then obviously there is running ALLi, and the other small community which I’ve started but is also growing, the Creativist Club.

So first, I get up very early. I love to rise when the world is quiet and do that sort of writing at that time. And then when I’ve written myself out, I’m happy to leave that for the rest of the day and put my attention elsewhere.

And I actually, rather than feeling it, I know a lot of people do struggle with this and feel that there is a conflict. I’m the opposite, I actually feel really privileged and delighted that I have found work where I can kind of develop all the different aspects of myself.

I was never just somebody who just wrote and locked myself away. I really love all that the Internet has facilitated. I like digital commerce, I like technology and the stuff that’s coming. I’m not very techie-minded when it comes to doing technical things, but I’m trying to be better.

Joanna: You’re doing a lot better.

Orna: Thank you, a tech mom.

Joanna: But it is interesting because I think I’m feeling that too. I’ve struggled for so long. I’m like, “Oh, but I want to be a full-time fiction writer.” And then I’m like, “Oh, but actually, I want to be a full-time non-fictional author. And be like, you know, speaking, and Tony Robbins.”

I feel much more at peace. Right now at this moment, I’m quite balanced in there. I’m very happy with them both, and that sounds like where you are.

I don’t actually want to give up being either of these things. And you don’t have to, do you?

Orna: You absolutely don’t, and that’s the joy and beauty of the world we’re in now. It was harder before. And I think I’m a better poet or fiction writer because I do these other things.

I think the kind of writer that locks themselves away, you can get very good writing for a while but after a while that stream runs dry. It is immersion in life that keeps writing lively and vital.

There are no rules in this game. And there are people who do that, and it works very well for them.

And it definitely does not work for me, and I don’t think it works for as many people. It’s almost like that’s held up with the desirable norm that most of us would opt for if we were given the opportunity. And I think self-publishing revealed just how many writers were not like that.

I don’t know that it is the norm or should be what we’re holding up. There is one real problem that I see with that is that most people are not going to be able to write enough, or in the right genre to actually be able to sustain themselves. Just doing one form of writing and locking themselves away, and just themselves and their imagination.

There will always be some people for whom that works, but most writers, most creative entrepreneurs need multiple streams of income. And they need multiple engagement levels with world, and with the services, and the products, and stuff that they’re offering out to the world.

I think it will be much more sensible if we were making that the norm, and then the person who decides to completely specialize. And that will be more like every other field. You have generalists and then you have a few specialists, not everybody’s trying to be a specialist.

Joanna: I think also we talk about generational shift. I talk about it on the podcast, you talk about it. And you have millennium kids, as well, which I think they’re doing amazing things.

And what they say now is that the boomers certainly, and then your generation, and my generation, many people had one career and that was actually the norm. Whereas the millennials, and like what we’re seeing with indie, is people don’t just have one career anymore. They may do lots of different jobs.

They might do this and that, and that, or this then that, and they might move. And so I almost think it’s a cultural generational shift anyway, that we don’t have one specialism.

We actually have these different roles, and hats, and jobs, and streams of income.

Orna: I completely agree, and to me, that is also a sign that we are in the creative age. Because actually if you look at the back of lots of authors, they do the little bio on the back of the book. There are so many people say, you know, “I’ve been a barmaid, and an aerobics instructor, and this, and that.”

“I was down in the mines, as a probation officer and now I write fiction.” I think creators have always done that. I really believe it’s got to the point that you can no longer count on having a job, as though anybody ever wanted that. I don’t know.

Actually counting on that is not a very good career plan now. And the ability to change, to shift, and turn, is actually going to become a key skill. And these are creative skills that are popping up and needed now are all over the place as you say no matter what you’re in. So, yeah, it’s really interesting times.

Joanna: I’m happily childfree but my sisters have kids and my cousins, and I’m an auntie, and a godmother, and everything. And when they ask me about their kids and being creative or what they should be learning because of the shift, the biggest thing I say is anything they’re interested in, just encourage them to do creative projects.

The only thing that will continue is the ability to react in a creative way, and do projects, and learn.

I think the excitement in learning new things is so important because technology does change, right? And I think people who are stuck in an old way will get left behind with that.

As long as kids, and also older kids like us, we have to keep being focused on creativity and learning. They’re probably the only two skills that are important.

Orna: I agree completely, and if you have never had the experience of taking a project from conception to completion. If you haven’t felt put through, not up here, but through your hands and every other part of you the seven stages of the career, once you’ve done that once, doing it the second time is easier. And the more times you do it, the easier it gets. The flow happens more.

But if you’ve never done it, if nobody’s ever shown you, if you don’t know what it is to create, if you don’t know that conscious creation even is a thing, you know, if you don’t trust your own creative capacity, you think life hands you a deal, and think you are the passive recipient of life happening to you, then you’re instantly at a disadvantage. And even more so at a time like ours.

But once you understand that actually this is another myth that needs to go out of the window, that the creativity is some kind of special gift given to a few people. Once you understand that it’s actually a universal thing that’s going on all the time, that we are all always creating either consciously or unconsciously, that we’re offering everything out, receiving everything back.

And that we actually can, not completely control, but we certainly can shape our experience of our own life force moving through us, well, that’s huge. The difference between somebody who understands that about themselves and somebody who doesn’t is the difference between being empowered and being disempowered.

Joanna: It’s funny, we keep coming back to it, and I think indies are certainly getting to a point where we’re becoming a force to be reckoned with, and have more power.

It feels like authors have always been disempowered by the publishing industry. First of all, the very first interaction is begging for attention and rejection. And that has gone into the soul of what being an author is supposed to be about. Whereas, I actively chose to be indie from the beginning. So I’ve never experienced that.

You and I have spoken at some conferences together. And a couple of years ago, I had said to you, “I think we are a completely different industry.” I told you this the other day, but at the time you were like, “No, no. It’s really important that we are there.”

In the last few weeks, you’ve had a shift, haven’t you, in considering the difference between indie and traditional.

What has that shift been?

Orna: Yeah, I think again, that’s the difference between somebody like you coming in clean, starting off at a time when the tools are there, and somebody like me who’s come up through the machine.

I still do think that we need, as people who sell books, we need to be in bookstores. We need to be wherever readers are found. We need to be part of the book’s ecosystem. And ALLi will continue to advocate for that, and keep trying to open up to indie authors’ campaign. We’ll remain live until indies are everywhere that everyone else is.

What has become very clear to me, and it wasn’t so much of a shift as a sort of a slow dawning and realization that indie authors have far more in common with other creative entrepreneurs, particularly other digital entrepreneurs, than we have with people who are trad published, or aiming to be trad published, or want to be trad published.

It’s a different business model, it’s a different mindset, everything is different. It’s different from top to bottom.

And I think as indie authors we can learn more from our colleagues in the music industry, filmmakers, gamers, and techies, counselors, life coaches, business people who are building businesses that are taking in publishing into their business. And by publishing, I mean publishing a book, as you said, as a kind of business calling card. But they are also needing to learn how to publish themselves, and create a platform, and a profile, and put themselves out there.

These are all skills that should come easier to us as writers. We should have the advantage there. Not everybody by any means, but there is still a rumbling of discontent in the community about, “Ugh, we have to do that awful stuff called marketing. While we’d really rather be doing that lovely stuff called writing.” And that sort of duality I think is another form of disempowerment.

We say that the publishing industry disempowered writers and that is not untrue, that is definitely…it didn’t happen, but writers disempowered themselves. Went into business conversations with publishers on their knees and said, “Yes, you know, may I…suppose…”

Joanna: “I’ll sign anything.”

Orna: “I don’t need any money, just, I am so grateful that you like me.” That kind of thing.

And even back then when there was no other option, I always found that hard to take. Because it is business. The second you’re not in the writing space, and perhaps even while you are in the writing space. It’s not something to think about.

But certainly, when you’re talking to somebody about a business transaction, they’re going to make money from your intellectual property. You owe it to yourself, and you owe it to other writers not to disempower yourself before you even get started.

I think the equivalent of that in the indie space is, “Oh, I don’t want to market my books, I just want to write them.” I think again, it’s about a mindset shift, and the kind of language that we use around that. We need to change that.

Because the person who makes that decision, because that is a choice, if you’re going to make that choice you’re actually choosing not to succeed. You’re choosing probably not. There may be a miracle comes in your window and you might. But chances are you’re actually choosing not to have readers, not to have an influence, not to make an impact, and not to see your book sell.

You have to start there and if you don’t like the word marketing, then call it something else. I don’t like the word marketing. I rarely use it. I talk about reaching readers. I talk about increasing influence because I’m more comfortable with those terms.

Find terms that you’re comfortable with. But also realize that as a writer you have set out to, kind of, invade people’s brains.

Joanna: In a good way.

Orna: In a good way. In a positive way, I hope, and all of that. But that’s in you. You do want that. You do actually want that power. So don’t let that word frighten you; follow it through to its logical conclusion which is called success.

Joanna: Yes, so powerful words there, and also a police siren because Orna is recording in central London. So we live in the world as well as in our heads.

Orna: Absolutely.

Joanna: So important. We’re pretty much out of time, but I’d love you to do this.

There are a lot of books in the “Go Creative” series. I wonder if you could just give us an idea of the ecosystem, the different topics that you’re covering so that people get an idea of what these books are, and where they’re going.

Orna: Yes, I mean, there are a lot of books, but they’re short. And I thought it was better to have a number of short books than to have one, great, big tome.

The first one is about going creative, so we use the word “Go Creators” because it’s something you do. It’s an activity. It’s not another intellectual pursuit. And all the different ways in which one goes create.

And so that is essentially about establishing yourself as a creative person, understanding the hallmarks of creativity, the principles, the practices, a general overview for the first book.

The second book then is called “How to Create Anything,” and it presents the creative process from start to finish. And talks about the different phases of that process. Which, if you’re making something small it’s not relevant, but as soon as you’re making something that is a challenge like an iBook series, it kind of helps to know what stage you’re at. Because different stages and phases of a process require different skills and different approaches, so there’s that one.

The third one then is about creative success, about the psychology, what we’re talking about there earlier, the psychology of creative success, plus it looks like how it feels, and how to succeed essentially.

And then the next three are practice books, one for body, one for mind, one for spirit. So there’s a “F-R-E-E-Writing” book which is what we discussed here today. There’s a body practice called effortless exercise, which includes things like yoga, and chi running, and essentially any exercise that doesn’t have a goal.

It’s not about sports, it’s not about winning, it’s not about games, it’s done for its own sake. And I think that is the kind of exercise in my experience that most creatives actually have an affinity for. They don’t tend to like the world of sport, or whatever. So there is, I think, a personal best that happens. But I mean, that’s exercise.

And the third one then is a meditation specifically around cultivating creativity, inspiration, and so on. So that’s three practice books.

And then the others are application of the process to specific things. So the money one is number seven. There’s a few workbooks as well, and there is an introductory book which is a compendium. Which is very much about cultivating the create-state, and what that create-state is, getting into flow. A general overview of that from my very personal perspective with some poetry in it, and fiction extracts, and things as well. And that’s it. So, you know, it took a while but there’s a lot in it.

Joanna: That’s it. And I know how long this has taken you. Like you said, it’s probably been your journey since you were at school, really.

Orna: Nursery, actually, yes. I guess so, it does. It sums up a lifetime’s philosophy, and it answers everything for me. I don’t have any life questions left.

Joana: Oh, the universe will bring you more.

Orna: You just live it now. The creative way as an approach for me is the answer to so many questions that I had as a young person.

Joanna: Yeah. But just tying it back to the personal again, you mentioned philosophy. And these aren’t philosophy books because you’ve lived this.

You have been quite open about going through cancer, you’ve had some issues with family health. You’ve used this process to get through the darkest times in your life.

Orna: Absolutely, definitely. And I do talk about that in these books, and the way in which having that creative way gave me the strength and resilience. Had I tried to approach it from a more conventional perspective, and the way you are told to manage these things, it wouldn’t have worked.

Had I tried to build the Alliance of Independent Authors on conventional business principles it would never have happened. I cannot do that, I am not able to do that.

But there is another messy, more exploratory, more experimental, way that you can do things, and nobody tells you that. So these books are here to tell you that.

You can actually make it up as you go along. You can fall flat on your face, and you pick yourself up and get on with it. You can meet a lot of rejection. It doesn’t matter as long as you just keep smiling, and go again.

And knowing what you’re trying to do, knowing your creative intention, knowing the values that you’re bringing to it, what your purpose is, what you’re trying to make happen, all of these things make you very strong and unshakable. They give you a very solid foundation, but they also set you free.

Things like comparisonitis, and anger of the world for not understanding you, and all of that kind of stuff melts away, because you’re too busy just getting on doing stuff. You don’t have so much time for thinking and feeling. It certainly helped me, so hopefully, it will help one or two other people.

Joanna: Yeah, it’s fantastic because, I mean, I’m “The Creative Penn,” that’s my website. And I want to write a book on “Creativity” at some point, but it’s a bit like what you’re saying.

It’s such a big topic that I feel like it might take me another 10 years to write that book as well.

Orna: It’s funny. It’s such a big topic. What I realized, what finally clicked for me, and really only very recently, was that you have to find your lens through which you look at it, must be very small indeed.

And if you go small enough you can take it all in, but if you’re trying to catch hold of the whole thing it’s like trying to grasp water. It just runs away. You can’t actually hold it.

So for me, understanding that actually, the people I wanted to talk to were creative entrepreneurs. And what I wanted to talk to them about was money and running a successful, creative, entrepreneurial business, and how that feeds into everything in their lives.

Once I had that lens, everything started to fall into place. It was all there, but I just couldn’t see it when I was thinking of creativity in more spiritual terms or more… You know, I was widening it out, and applying it to everything in life. Which it can, you can do that, but don’t try to write about it. It’s too hard, it really is. And it becomes very, kind of, fuzzy-wuzzy, and just didn’t have the roots that it now has.

Joanna: Fantastic, so I’m really looking forward to all the books. I’ve been with you on part of this journey, so I’m definitely looking forward to it.

Where can people find you, and the books online, and all your books, everything you do?

Orna: Everything I do, ornaross.com essentially everything is there. And under my books, there is a section, the “Go Creative” books are there. And there is a club associated with it, because I did want to have a community aspect to it.

I’ve seen how useful that is in our line. It’s not a formal association like ALLi at all. It’s a much more informal thing, a motivational accountability group called, the Creativist Club. Which I will open in January, and just take in a few members. And we will, kind of, work together through the principals and practices.

I see these books will probably go through a bit more iteration and development after they are out. And once I see how people are actually receiving them they’ll share. Yes, so it’s all there anyway, ornaross.com.

Joanna; Fantastic, thanks so much for your time, Orna.

Orna: Oh, thank you, Jo, always a pleasure.

Joanna Penn :

View Comments (2)

  • This interview is worth reading. This is an unique way to build a community of writers. Thanks Joanna and Orna.

  • Wow, I think this is the first person I relate to on so many levels. I write poetry first (mostly for myself) and am working on fiction so I loved hearing your process.

    Thanks for the interview!