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Want #Writing and #SocialMedia Tips from Author and Book Doctor, Roz Morris? #IWSG

By 03/10/2017October 31st, 2017guest post, writing
Roz Morris Writing advice

Here on Daily (w)rite, as part of the ongoing guest post series, it is my absolute pleasure today to welcome to this site author Roz Morris, whose blog has been an essential part of my writing life. She’s an award-nominated author, book doctor, ghostwriter and writing teacher. The highlights of her insightful responses are marked in blue.

(This is an #IWSG post, and I’m scheduling this up early due to previous commitments.)

1. At what age did you start writing fiction? What prompted you?

Roz Morris Writing booksI’ve always written. I was a shy kid who didn’t talk a lot out loud, but made up stories constantly. So I wrote a lot, but never thought it could end up as fully-fledged books. Two people made me change my mind.

The first was a schoolteacher when I was 17. When she talked about Shakespeare and Dickens she brought them ferociously alive. She cornered me after an exam and I thought it must be because I’d written something dumb. Actually, she said: ‘your essay on Chaucer was brilliant and you should write novels’.

I still didn’t take writing seriously until, 20 years on, I met Person Number Two – I married a writer. While getting to know literary agents and publishers, I got a break as a ghostwriter – and published about a dozen novels under top-secret conditions. I still see copies of them around people’s houses today but I can’t tell you what they are! But I didn’t feel I’d earned my spurs until I released a novel under my own name.  My first novel was My Memories of a Future Life. It arose from one of those ‘what-if’ ideas – you can go back to past lives by hypnosis, but what if you went forwards?

My second novel, Lifeform Three, is about a future time where all the countryside has disappeared – except for one glorious green valley with an old house which is now a theme park. It was inspired by my love of the English countryside and horse riding – I thought how long will this last? Lifeform Three was longlisted for the World Fantasy Award.

And now I’ve got a narrative non-fiction book as well – Not Quite Lost: Travels Without a Sense of Direction.

Roz Morris Writing advice2. In your opinion, what makes a successful novel?

I can only answer as a writer. Rewriting is the big secret. Successful books aren’t just a string of well-chosen words; they’re a hidden mechanism of structure and characterisation as well. The best piece of advice I could give an aspiring writer is to learn how to critically appraise your own work.

3. What are the top books on your reading list right now?

I’m always tripping over things I want to read. At the moment the queue looks like this.

  • The Scapegoat by Daphne Du Maurier – it’s about two men who swap identities, the classic ‘double’ story. I’m looking forward to her take.
  • Bel Canto by Ann Patchett – the novel about a siege in a South American embassy. I’m rereading it because its vibe fits well with the novel I’m currently writing (Ever Rest).
  • The Constant Gardener by John le Carre – It’s classic le Carre territory, with tangled conspiracies and characters who are mesmerising and vulnerable. I started reading it a few months ago, then got diverted by another book I had to read for my work. I have it on the nightstand, ready to start again.
  • Helliconia Spring by Brian Aldiss – about a planet where the seasons are enormously extended. I’m eager to see what he does with such a potent idea.

4. You’re a renowned ghostwriter. Could you point us to some resources for those interested in breaking into this kind of writing?

I get asked this a lot, so I created a course. It explains what ghostwriting is, where ghostwriters are used (they’re far more common than you’d think!), how to pitch for a project, how to find opportunities, how to handle the client … everything you need! .

5. Which authors have been your biggest influences?

Too many to list! I must have been reading since I first plugged brain into eyes.

I love authors with a graceful turn of language, an eye for the unusual, compelling characters and a strong storytelling drive. Iain Banks was an influence on My Memories of a Future Life – his novel The Bridge has a character living two lives.

For Lifeform Three I was influenced by Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, for his combination of futurism and nostalgia.

I like Barbara Trapido, Sophie Kinsella, Barbara Vine and John le Carre for their human, vulnerable, troubled characters. (Yes, you don’t often see those writers mentioned in the same breath!) Joan Didion and Helen Macdonald for their unsparing observation. Gerald Durrell, James Herriot and Gavin Maxwell for the deep affection in everything they write.

6. What would you recommend to an author seeking to build a platform?

Choose a few social media sites where your kinds of readers tend to hang out. I principally use Twitter and Facebook. Depending on the books you write, you might find Instagram or Wattpad are good for you.

A website to display your work is important. You might also have a blog to create shareable posts and bring you a wider audience.

A newsletter – collect email addresses from people who are interested in your books and send out an occasional message to let them know what you’re working on.

Take your time. Treat it as if you’re moving into a new town and trying to find the people who are most like you. Be friendly, and see who you get on with.

Roz Morris Writing social media tips

7.  As a creative writing teacher, what advice would you give to aspiring/ emerging fiction writers? Could you talk about your own journey as a writer and writing teacher in this context?

Read a lot! Although you can learn storytelling techniques from movies, you must also learn from prose because prose has its own characteristics.

When I’m teaching, I often find aspiring authors trying to use tricks from movies that simply don’t work in a book – like scenes with a lot of characters talking. And, conversely, they don’t realise that prose makes other kinds of scene very easy – such as passage of time.

While reading, analyse your reactions – if you like a character, ask yourself what the author did to make you feel that way. This is how I learned – and I still do.

8. In your opinion, what factors should guide an author when deciding between self-publishing and going the traditional route?

I’d always advise to look for a publishing deal because you need the widest options possible. You can always decide to self-publish if that’s a better situation.

If you get an offer, look at the long term. A publisher will give you two kinds of help – what are they worth to you?

1 There’s editorial help – producing the book to a publishable standard. There are standard processes, like proofing, and there are more specialised processes such as developmental editing for the audience and designing a cover that will attract the right readers.

2 There’s also marketing and publicity. Does the publisher have good influence? Will they get your book seen in places that you couldn’t get to by yourself or by hiring dedicated book PR?

You need to weigh up the publisher’s expertise, experience and connections. Also, look at what they will take from you – not just the sales income, but other rights such as
Translation rights
• Other editions – your book can be an ebook, a print book, an audiobook, a movie…
• Reversion rights – if the book doesn’t sell, can you reclaim the rights and take it to a different publisher or publish it yourself?
• Non-compete clauses – some publishers won’t want you to write anything else while you’re under contract to them.

9. You’ve written books targeted at writers. Could you tell us more about the impetus behind them? Roz morris on Writing booksWhat sort of writers would benefit?

My Nail Your Novel books! I’ve mentored a lot of writers, and I wrote the Nail Your Novels from the issues they most commonly have trouble with.

Book 1 is a step-by-step plan for writing and revising. I wrote it because I realized so many writers were starting out with a great idea and then getting muddled or disillusioned. Or if an editor suggested they restructure, they were completely lost – they’d got a manuscript of 65,000 words, how on earth could they move plot threads or combine characters? I realised I did this kind of thing without turning a hair, so I wrote Nail Your Novel: Why Writers Abandon Books & How You Can Draft, Fix & Finish With ConfidenceBook 2 builds on that with the mistakes I commonly see with characters. Book 3 is plot. And the books are short and bite-sized – you can dip in, find a helpful suggestion, and get back to your writing.

10. Some writing and publishing professionals believe that creative writing cannot be taught— that those who profess to do so merely spot existing talent and help polish it. Where do you stand on this?

There are two elements here.

1. Talent – every profession on the planet involves using an aptitude. I would be useless in any job that involves maths, for instance, because I have no natural feel for numbers. But I’m lucky to have a flair for words, and so I’ll gravitate to professions where that sensitivity will be an advantage.

I think creativity is difficult to teach if a person doesn’t have the natural inclination. I know a lot of people who tell me they simply cannot ‘invent’ or make those creative leaps.

2. Speaking as a teacher, I’ve noticed that inexperienced writers have certain things they do very well, and other areas that are blind spots. This is where we see the other element – work. A tutor can guide and steer, but the writer has to put in the hours. All arts are learned by self-directed study. And it’s often frustrating, so we need a lot of persistence too.

So I agree that we can’t make a person creative. They either are or they’re not. But – except for the odd genius – even the talented people have blind spots and they need to be directed by experienced hands. But innate talent makes it easier to learn a craft to a professional standard.

Roz Morris Writing Not Quite Lost11. Tell us about your latest book: Not Quite Lost: Travels Without A Sense of Direction. How did this lighthearted travel memoir come about, and did you have an ideal reader in mind when you wrote it?

Not Quite Lost started with a big leather-bound diary I carry with me when I travel. After a while I had so many stories about odd places and adventures that I thought I’d publish them properly. I guess the ideal reader would be people who enjoy Bill Bryson’s humour and sense of wry wonder, and also a bit of Jon Ronson’s sense of absurdity. And, to bring things full circle, one of the stories is about how I finally started writing as myself instead of as a ghost.

Have you read books by Roz Morris? Have you worked with an editor, book doctor or a ghost writer? What was the experience like? Would you like to talk about the influence of writing teachers? Do you have questions for Roz ? As a reader what genre do you prefer? Do you read novels, non-fiction, or short fiction, or all of these forms?

Roz Morris is an award-nominated novelist (My Memories of a Future Life; Lifeform Three), book doctor to award-winning writers (Roald Dahl Funny Prize 2012), has sold 4 million books as a ghostwriter and teaches writing masterclasses for The Guardian. Her first non-fiction collection, Not Quite Lost, is now available. Find out more here. When not at her desk, her favourite place in the world is on the back of a horse, exploring the old commons, byways and woods of Surrey, UK. Her website is here, her blog is here, her Facebook page is here, you can tweet her as @Roz_Morris.

IWSG Writing groupThis post was written for the IWSG. Thanks to Alex J. Cavanaugh for organizing and hosting the Insecure Writer’s Support Group (IWSG) every month! Go to the site to see the other participants. In this group we writers share tips, self-doubt, insecurities, and of course, discuss the act of writing. If you’re a writer and a blogger, go join rightaway! Co-hosts this month are: Olga Godim, Chemist Ken, Jennifer Hawes, and Tamara Narayan!

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Damyanti Biswas

Damyanti Biswas is the author of You Beneath Your Skin and numerous short stories that have been published in magazines and anthologies in the US, the UK, and Asia. She has been shortlisted for Best Small Fictions and Bath Novel Awards and is co-editor of the Forge Literary Magazine. Her literary crime thriller series, the Blue Mumbai, is represented by Lucienne Diver from The Knight Agency. Both The Blue Bar and The Blue Monsoon were published in 2023.

I appreciate comments, and I always visit back. If you're having trouble commenting, let me know via the contact form, or tweet me up @damyantig !

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  • It was so inspiring. Sharing it in my group.

  • jmh says:

    Interesting post. I’m a ghostwriter as well, so it’s always interesting to see what other “ghosts” have to say. It does seem like the go-to way to make money as a writer is to sell tips to other writers. 🙂

  • Aw, I LOVE hearing other writers’ stories. Thanks for sharing!

  • cleemckenzie says:

    I like reading this interview. How fortunate for her that a teacher spotted her talent early on and encouraged her. Good advice about treating networking the way one would if moving into a new town. Excellent way to explain the right way to go about it.

  • Inderpreet says:

    Such an insightful interview, I will check out the books. I have been hearing so much about ghost writing and I always wanted to know that who gives the plot or story idea for the book? The author or the ghost writer? Thanks, Roz.
    Thanks Damyanti.

    • jmh says:

      Always the client, who isn’t always an author. Whether you’re ghosting for James Patterson or a corporation, the general idea comes from the client. However, depending on the situation, the ghost can add their own spin or ideas. It really depends on the client and how flexible they are.

  • wow – dozens of novels as a ghostwriter! How novel 😉 – I think you must tell us a little more. Sounds like you have a very successful career you’ve been able to build on.

  • Nick Wilford says:

    What a great post from Roz, so much value for writers here. I appreciate the marketing tips and Roz’s novels also both have really interesting premises. I’ll add them to my TBR list!

  • dgkaye says:

    Fantastic interview with Roz here today. Thanks for the great tips Roz! 🙂

  • The interview of wonderful writer of this interesting book is very informative and inspiring. Her tips for writers are very useful. Very useful post. Thanks for sharing. #WATWB

  • Liesbet says:

    Wow, you collect the most interesting and accomplished authors for your guest posts, Damyanti. This was a very informative and inspiring interview. I think my sense of pride would prevent me from becoming a ghost writer. And then, you have to keep it a secret, when seeing books in people’s houses that you wrote. Difficult! I’m glad Roz started writing for herself and has so many experiences and tips to share. I’m curious about her latest book “Not Quite Lost”.

    • Thank you, Liesbet! Yes, keeping secrets can be difficult sometimes. It can be so tempting … But that means that I’m all the more grateful when I get feedback from people who’ve read my ‘real’ work. The two worlds complement each other, I guess.

  • Vinitha says:

    Loved the tips for writers in this interview, Damyanti. I have only heard of ghostwriting. Will look into the course to know more. Thanks for sharing.

  • I’m a big fan of Ann Patchett. Bel Canto is awesome, but I do admit I like State of Wonder a little bit more.

  • Rajlakshmi says:

    I loved her advice and insights for budding writers. Very informative interview 🙂

  • Such a fascinating writing journey…
    Thank you for this interview, ladies!

    I’m thinking that all those influences, from Bradbury to le Carre to Durrell, plus the ghostwriting experiences = unique and eclectic writing style/voice.
    I haven’t read any of Roz’s books, yet… hopefully I’ll get to do so soon.

    Roz, what is your number one tip for aspiring writers when learning how to critically appraise your own work?

    • Hi Michelle! My top self-appraisal tip is to do several passes, looking for different qualities. One time, perhaps look at the dialogue and ignore everything else. Another time, check your descriptions aren’t overlong – or too brief. Another time, maybe look for bad habits you know you have, such as words you overuse. The secret is this – don’t try to do too much in one go. Instead, go through the manuscript in layers. Allow yourself as many layers as you need.

  • Lata Sunil says:

    Loved reading the interview. Love the series of guest posts you are doing.

  • brandonax says:

    Oh wow this was great to read. Being a Ghost Writer must come a with a mix of emotions. I am not sure I could do it, but then again who knows.

    I love the bit of advice about studying our reactions while we read. I learned so much about writing doing this.

    I feel a bit like I know Roz now. Thanks for the read. I’ll be keeping an eye to see what is next.

  • A really great and informative interview! I like that she described a novel as a series of hidden mechanisms.

  • Love all the great advice in this interview. Rewriting is definitely the secret. Lots of it!

  • Patsy says:

    I agree that rewriting and critically looking at our own work are very important factors in creating a good novel. A completed first draft is somewhere to start from – not a nearly finished piece of work.

  • I think I’m going to have to set time aside for the ghostwriting course. Traveling at the moment, so maybe in a couple of months after Nano. 🙂

  • pjlazos says:

    Great advice. Thanks to Roz! Will pick up her book on writing asap!

  • miladyronel says:

    “Rewriting is the big secret. Successful books aren’t just a string of well-chosen words; they’re a hidden mechanism of structure and characterisation as well. The best piece of advice I could give an aspiring writer is to learn how to critically appraise your own work.” Great advice!

  • Kim M Watt says:

    Great interview! I love the tips on building a social media platform, and Book 1 of Nail Your Novel sounds really good – I find re-writing to be such a daunting task.

  • Great interview! Roz seems to bring a lot of diverse knowledge to the subject. I often think I couldn’t be a ghostwriter. I enjoy people knowing what I’ve written! I do have a friend who has great success with it, though, so there are times I ponder it.

    • Hi Shannon! You’re not alone in thinking that. Ghostwriters have to be very self-effacing. I have a post on my blog where I interview several ghostwriters about the projects they write for themselves – very interesting. They certainly need to express their own ideas and souls as well. go to my blog and type ‘soul projects’ into the search bar!

  • hilarymb says:

    Hi Damyanti and Roz … what a great guest post – loved reading it … and how fascinating to read the back story – well done to you both – cheers Hilary

  • simonfalk28 says:

    When I was 16 I had an experience like Roz’s person number one episode. I was interested in an extra high school English unit and put my name on the list. Then I got cold feet and didn’t turn up to the information session. The teacher tracked me down after the session. I did the course and loved it. Thanks for sharing this interview.

  • JT Twissel says:

    I agree with Roz that just because you have the talent for putting words together well, you still need to work at the other elements of writing fiction – characters, story, setting…. etc.

  • datmama4 says:

    Lifeform Three sounds like it’s right up my alley for reading interest, and Book 1 of the Nail Your Novel series seems like it would be a great addition to my editing resource collection. Great interview, and nice to “meet” you, Roz.

  • Thanks so much for hosting me, Damyanti!

  • Definitely agree to look at publishers first.
    Ghostwriting must be fun – like writing in secret. Nobody knows…

    • Hi Alex! Ghostwriting certainly is fun. It’s liberating to put someone else’s hat on for a while. I’ve been privy to lives and secrets I’d never have seen otherwise and I return to my own books with broader horizons.

  • laughingatthesky1 says:

    What a great interview Damyanti! As a writer I’ve come across Roz’s name often but haven’t looked deeply into her work. I have just subscribed to her blog and am now following her on Twitter and FB. I look forward to checking out her books. My questions for her include: what is your favorite resource for memoir writing? And, do you have a favorite memoir where there is clear separation between the character and narrator, and solid interiority? (This was a request I had from an agent who read my memoir’s manuscript.) Thanks so much!

    • What an interesting question about resources for memoir writing. There are many kinds of memoir – from the big adventure to the small steps of interior change. If I were you, I’d read a lot of the kinds of memoir you’re trying to write so that you can see how the journey was constructed and if you’re including all the ingredients that readers of that kind of memoir enjoy. Reading is always my biggest resource, no matter what I’m writing.
      As for your other question, I’m not entirely sure what it means! In a memoir, there surely isn’t a separation from the character and the narrator because they’re written in first person. The interiority is surely part of the journey. But maybe I’ve misunderstood! Do elaborate.
      I certainly do have favourite memoirs. For humour, I love Bill Bryson, Eric Newby, Gavin Maxwell, James Herriot, David Sedaris. For memoirs with a more serious journey, two I’ve enjoyed are H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald, and The Fox In The Cupboard by Jane Shilling.

  • Shilpa Garg says:

    This is an extremely insightful, informative and enlightening interview. I have learned so much from the answers. Thanks a lot, Roz for sharing your experiences and learnings.

  • franklparker says:

    Extremely insightful; thanks for getting someone so talented to share her wisdom.

  • Great suggestions, Roz. I subscribe to most of them–and am happy with how they work. Your book looks great–fun in an era where traveling isn’t a lot of fun anymore!