In the third week of each month, the topic for the Go Creative! Show is creative writing.
This week, the first half of the show introduces you to free-writing, a form of expressive, creative writing, and an incredible tool for healing and transformation.
F.R.E.E. stands for Fast, Raw, Exact and Easy, and this technique is an excellent way for you to ignite and harness the create-state
This week I was also joined by regular contributor Dan Blank, who specialises in helping people turn their creative work into their creative career, and we chatted about what he calls setting goals, and I call setting creative intentions. We look at what experiences we want to create for ourselves and other people, and how we can add meaningful interactions to our week by following Dan’s three step process.
It’s a packed 30 minute broadcast, that will equip you to free-write yourself and know how to set up your own creative intentions in a way that they are most likely to deliver.
If you’re interested in learning more about how to be more creative in life as well as work, sign up here for my weekly Monday Motivator Mail, which will bring you news of the broadcasts and books, together with special giveaways and offers just for subscribers.
So on with the show. Here it is on sound cloud.
The Go Creative! Show Episode 3
TRANSCRIPT by Cherylee H
Paul: You’re tuned to the weekly Go Creative Show, an audio-video broadcast about creative writing, creative publishing and creative living with Irish Indie Author and director of the Alliance of Independence Authors and the Indie Author Fringe, Orna Ross. Find out more or join Orna’s Creativist Club on www.ornaross.com. Now let’s see who Orna’s got for us this week and what they’ve been creating.
Orna: Hello and welcome to Episode 3 of the Go Creative! Show. I’m really pleased you’ve come along again and today we’re going to be talking about creative writing. And you’re probably instantly thinking “uh-oh she’s a writer so this show is not for me, this is for people who write for a living”. But you’ll be only partly right — yes, we are going to be talking to Dan Blank, who is one of the regular contributors to the Go Creative! Show, and Dan runs a company called We Grow Media and he specialises in helping people who want to turn their creative work, be that writing or art or performance or whatever, into their creative career. And I know there are a lot of you who are interested in that. But the creative writing segment of this show is much, much broader than that.
I believe creative writing, particularly the form I’m going to be talking about which is free-writing, is not just for writers. It’s actually for everybody.
Writing is a tool that’s become so everyday that we’ve become way too accustomed to its magical properties. There are some very interesting people doing some very interesting research into just how magic it is to do what is being termed in the broadest sense, expressive writing.
So we’re going to talk about this form of expressive, creative writing that I teach which is called free-writing.
I’ve taught it to writers, yes, and to publishing people in all sorts of lovely places. But I’ve also taught it to people who are imprisoned for various things that have happened in their lives, to immigrant groups, to people recovering from drug addiction, to people who were in life situations that many of us can only imagine and in every case, even in cases where literacy is extremely low, free-writing has proven itself to be an incredible tool for healing, for transformation and ultimately for liberation. And that’s what I’m going to be talking about and teaching in the creative writing segment of this show. So don’t go away.
Paul: Free-writing. With Orna Ross.
Orna: So what is free-writing?
Free, F.R.E.E, these four letters help us to remember the technique that we’re actually learning. So F is for fast. When free writing we have to write as fast as we possibly can. When I teach this in a group I always say to them: “When I say go, you’re going to write like crazy. Write like the clappers until I say stop.” And that’s the instruction that you need to give yourself at home when you’re writing at home.
There are other things to think about perhaps and remember when you’re free writing, but none of the rest of them matter really, when compared to that one instruction. And this is the difference between this form of writing and that done by those who journal, or keep diaries, or perhaps do morning pages, or whatever other forms of writing you may have come across… Often they get a little bit stuck, writing the same kind of thing over and over.
Or perhaps not, perhaps journaling is your thing, in which case absolutely brilliant, do not stop. But also give free-writing a go and see how you get on. And if you’re finding that you used to enjoy a writing practice of any sort but you’ve got a little bit stuck, that’s the trick: Speed it up. Write faster!
The idea is that you are writing faster than your con mind. So your con mind, as you’ll remember, is your conscious mind, your conceptual mind, your conventional mind. The sort that likes to make constructs. Yes, we call it the con mind because it’s associated with so many con words — conquering, conflict and so on.
When we free-write we get beyond that, we get access to the creative mind. In a sense the writing comes up through us if we write fast enough. We’re not really sure what we’re writing sometimes. We read back and we go wow, did I say that? And we realise we’ve written something to ourselves that we didn’t even know was going on in our minds, in our lives, very often we get these, you know, epiphany moments, insights that arise in free-writing that really help us as short-cut situations in our lives. This is one of the main reasons for doing it.
But we don’t write for that, we don’t write in order for that to happen. We don’t set out with that intention. The intention we bring is that we will write free and the first part of writing free is to write fast. Got it? Fast.
The second thing to remember is to write raw. Well, when you are writing fast, you will write raw. And I mean that in two ways. In the first instance you’re going to make spelling mistakes, get your punctuation wrong: great. Yes, great. Great. Not a problem. Write off the lines if you want, if there’s a margin go right on through it, let your writing become really big on the page.
I remember in one class, once, a woman started writing one word on each page because what she was writing was so important to her.
Essentially just let it flow. Let it come through you. Become a conduit for the writing rather than someone who is chewing the pen, thinking about what you’re writing. And when you do that, yeah, it’s going to be messy and that’s fine. Forget everything your English teacher ever taught you about writing when it comes to free-writing.
There is a time of course for spelling and grammar, but you get to that point later. It is a later stage in the creative process. And this early stage, the important thing is to free yourself up.
Raw also in a second sense, sometimes. Not always, but if you are writing very fast and if you are truly writing freely, sometimes you are going to write stuff that you’d rather not write. And sometimes it can be really raw. It can be very sad, or you can find out that you’re really angry… You know, all sorts of emotions can surface in the writing. Just allow that to be, don’t try to stop it.
Sometimes people are a little bit afraid of that and they want to step away. I emphasis here, this doesn’t happen every single time, not at all. But if it does happen, the important thing is to go with that flow, to let it be what it is, to accept it fully, not to reject it. And, most of all, to keep on writing. Yes, you can write through tears, I have seen many people do so and the writing will be incredibly comforting and incredibly healing and incredibly transforming. So trust the process, let it be raw, as raw as it wants, as it needs, to be.
And so the last two letters of F.R.E.E. E and E, which stands for exact but easy. This is the instruction or the part of the teaching that sometimes people struggle with a little. The idea is that you use exact words that really reflect the reality of your own life. So you’re not trying to write, as we so often do, in a fuzzy way. We’re not being a bit ambiguous, a bit ambivalent about what we’re saying — kind of half saying it and then half taking it back — and using fuzzy words that reflect the fuzzy thinking. Words that don’t have concrete reality.
We aim to write in a very visceral way, that uses our five senses and pinpoints what we’re actually seeing in our lives. What we’re smelling, what we’re tasting, what we’re hearing and what we are touching. We get that exactness into the free-writing, so that we really record the reality of our unique experience.
We are the only people who will ever have the experience we are having, through this life of ours that we are living, and in the free-writing we record that. We get it down, we get the detail of it down and that’s a wonderful thing. And so the task is to accept the real, concrete details, not fight shy of them, bear witness to them.
Now as I said, sometimes people struggle a bit with this. They think it’s a contrary instruction, you know: “first she’s telling me write free, write fast, don’t think about it and then she’s saying get specific. Write about the particularity of my own experience, how on earth am I supposed to do both of those two things at the one time?”
Essentially you do it by not thinking about it. You just give yourself the instructions at the beginning of the session.
[music] That you will write fast.
That you will write raw.
That you will write exact-and-easy.
And that’s what you find that you do.
Paul: You can find out more about free writing on Orna’s website at www.ornaross.com/free-writing. There you can also sign up for a free weekly motivator mail, download go creative maps, tools and tips and join the Creativist Club. And now…
Paul: Creative writing, with regular contributor Dan Blank, of www.wegrowmedia.com.
Orna: Welcome back, and I am delighted to be able to introduce to you the person who is going to be a regular contributor on how writers connect with their audience. Dan Blank of We Grow Media is the man for this information. Hi Dan.
Dan: Hello, thank you for having me, I’m really excited about this, so I appreciate the invite.
Orna: It’s great, I’m really delighted that you’re going to be free to come along once a month and talk to us about this key question because I think no matter how you’re actually putting the books out there, whether you trade publish, whether you’re self publishing, whether you’re doing some combination, whatever it is, it’s always the key question: how do I reach more readers, how do I reach the readers that I have better? And one of the reasons that I’m absolutely thrilled that you’re going to be our regular contributor on these topics is because of the way that you always focused, not just on the quantity of reader connection but the quality.
You’re always talking about keeping things real and keeping things meaningful and I really love that.
So can we start today, kick off with a question about what you call setting goals, what I call setting creative intentions. Talk to us a little bit about writers and goal setting?
Dan: So writers exist in this place that’s partly personal and partly professional and it varies to degree with each one. I often find that for the professional portion, many people, when they talk about their goals, they are pathetically undeveloped. They are the broadest sketches possible. And they often say something like ‘oh I want to get published’. Or it’s like ‘oh I want to be a best seller.’ Or ‘you know, I just want to, I just want to inspire people.’ And that, in of itself is the beginning and the end of their goals. And from there they try to craft what is a very complex set of strategies and tactics to live up to those things.
So I want to talk about in a couple of different ways, I love your phrase of intention. It’s very forward thinking and I think it gets the right tone.
The first way I think of this is the idea of milestones you want to reach. So what most people call goals, I often think of as milestones. Like publishing a book is a very important milestone, like graduating college. But just publishing that book doesn’t mean that you’ll be fulfilled or satisfied or earn money or get a readership. But it’s merely a milestone in a bigger process. So that’s not really a goal as most people see it. And I think that when you’re aware of that, it allows you to ask that question of what experience do I want to have for myself? What experience do I want to create for other people? And to me that’s the where the secret of goals really lies.
Orna: Ok, I mean there’s so much there already that I’d like to pick apart. So this idea of milestones and goals — and steps, also I think you’re talking about there, you know, they’re kind of lurking there in the background — a lot of writers resist this way of thinking too linear. Are you a proponent of the smart goal thing, you know, the specific and measurable and blah, blah, blah, I can’t even remember what the other requirements are, you know that acronym? And that sort of way of thinking about a goal, of making sure it ticks the boxes. Is that something that you would recommend for writers? Or is that a bit too “left brain”, too analytical?
Dan: To a degree. I think one thing that plays here, that we don’t talk enough about, is emotion. How often we’re driven by this sense of emotion and we can’t always be honest with ourselves about it.
It’s sort of like the same with analytics where I’m enough of a proponent of saying: “yeah, look at your newsletter data and your Facebook data and your web data” but I’ve also seen so many people go too far with that. They give me this long spreadsheet of data and I’m like “yeah, but are you happy? Do you have any readers?” It’s like, alright, I think we have missed something between these two things.
Orna: Yeah absolutely. So, of those two questions — are you happy and do you have readers — which do you recommend people ask first?
Dan: This is why I hit upon that word: experiences. A lot of times, it’s this idea of you can measure, there’s almost measuring quality of experiences so one thing I’ll do with authors is talk about connecting with readers. I’ll ask: “Have you spoken to three members of your audience this week? Have you had a conversation? Have you had something meaningful?” So a lot of people, you and I included, we were sort of early adopters of Twitter, we hit that point where Twitter got to be a fire-hose and it felt less informal, more businessy, where it kind of fell off for people like us. And one way of turning that around with all social media is thinking: “Have you had three meaningful interactions this week with followers?” So there’s a sense of a bit of data in there, because it’s a number. Three. So you have that thing of did I do it? You can imagine a chart on your wall and you check it off with little star stickers and a happy face … [laughs]
Orna: [laughs] I love all that stuff, I have the Go Creative! Maps on the website for downloading which …
Dan: Love it.
Orna: … does that kind of thing. And three I find is a great number. Everything for me seems to fall into either three or seven. But anyway, keep going….
Dan: And then there’s also that subjective emotional sense which is “Yeah, I had three great conversations this week.” Or “I got three responses back with this question.” Or “I pushed myself to send out three requests to people for interviews.” Where it’s not purely analytical, because it’s not this kind of sense of: “What is the result, you know, what’s the ROI?” A part of that ROI is the experience.
“Did you effect someone in a positive way?” And that could be you entertained them, you changed their belief in something, you gave them hope. But it’s also for you, feeling like, “Wow, I’m a writer”. Or, “Yeah, my focus is this memoir but my memoir is really about giving, having… let’s say… young women feel they have confidence. Your book could be the big primary where you do that but there’s also a thousand other ways that you can do that. So social gives you another way to break into it.”
That’s where I think this idea of goals, milestones, intentions, whatever you call them, become smaller actions that seem more reasonable to us.
And again when you marry that thing of subjective, emotional stuff with kind of data which is this idea of having, like we said, weekly goals. And something I also like is monthly and quarterly assessments. We have a lot of different types of things we’re trying to do. I think if you say I’m going to check in every quarter, I’m going to put on my calendar that I’m going to check in on the strategy I’m pursuing and I’m going to go to Starbucks for three hours, and I’m going to get a big sugary muffin and a big latté, I’m going to review this every three months. That alone, again, is more than most people do when attending to their goals and milestones. Because most people say I’m going to be a best selling author but five years later they’re like, “What happened?” You know, where did I go off the rails?
Orna: I love what you’re saying about social media and this is something that we say all the time to the self-publishing authors who are members of ALLi and our Self-Publishing Advice Centre is that: “You know, your tweets, your Facebook status updates, Hello! that is writing too.”
And what you were talking there about the emotional connection you want to get with your reader, I think it’s a really good idea to look at the connection that your books are aiming to create in the reader and then to try and, you know, reflect that also in your social media, without getting to sort of narrow and linear about it. But to try to induce the same sort of emotion in the reader of your status update or the reader of your tweets or whatever as your books. So that you’re returning to, you know, the goal that I think we haven’t talked about yet and that an awful lot of writers don’t talk about, which is the biggie. The goal that I’m hoping to achieve by being a writer in the first place. What is being a writer going to deliver? Why do I want to be a writer? What emotional sort of payoff am I looking for in my life? What do I think it will do? And so on, you know? Do you have those kinds of conversations with writers too?
Dan: Oh absolutely. I was at the Writers Digest Conference recently and speaking in a room of a couple of hundred people and I said “You know, you get to make this choice: if writing is just a hobby for you or if it’s a profession. If it’s a profession, it’s a business, you’ve got to take it into a different lens. I grew up as an artist and I’m a fervent believer in this idea that you can just do art, do your writing just for the sake of writing. And you can even publish or share it in a small way if you feel that’s also good. I have done so many art projects that I did for the journey. I did just because I wanted to experience it.
Even if I dreamed a little bit, like wow that would be great if this is some weird break out or whatever, it wasn’t an expectation. I have tons of art projects that are in my attic, this hundred year old attic, upstairs, boxed away because the goal was never to share it, to publish it, to make it a business. It was something I pursued for self-fulfilment. And then I think you can kind of have a middle ground which is: I want a book but really, I want to be — like we said a minute ago — I just want to be helping young women have confidence, you know?
And you can have a whole platform around that where a book can be part of it, writing can be part of it, but your mission is not I want to be a writer. Your mission is this other thing where writing is a part of it.
And then there are people I think when I look at them: You’re indicating you want to be a writer but you have to think about what is that experience? And I think there you have to also do your research. A lot of people say I want to be a professional writer and then they make a lot of assumptions that if I do it right I should just be able to write a book every two years and be a hundred per cent paid, earn a hundred thousand dollars a year and live off that. Just off of that. And I think if you talk to a lot of writers who are full time writers you’ll find their life probably looks very different to that. They teach retreats, they do spec writing, they do all kinds of things, it’s more multi-faceted. So if that’s what your goal is, you have to do that research to see what it looks like for other people who are doing what you think you want to do.
Orna: When we talk about research, we talk about three kinds of research. There’s conventional research as we normally think of it, looking things up on the internet or in the library or wherever. But there’s also research of memory, which is kind of looking back over past experiences and understanding where your writing connects with all of that. And research of the imagination, which is the what ifs. What if this happened, what would that look like? Or that instead? And so on.
Because again, I think when we get into the language of goals — and this is my fear, that it may be the wrong word, I have this slight discomfort with the word “goals” for creative work. Not that I don’t think we need to set intentions, we absolutely do. But that people, once you bring up goal -etting, it’s like they suddenly throw creativity away and get serious, you know? They think they have to be very business-like and move into a different sort of mindset. Take off one hat and put on another. What do you think about that, I mean, do we have to do that?
Dan: It’s such a great question. I think that usually screws things up for people because they’re now trying to live up to this model, they get that “professional” voice, like their website gets really boring, their bio gets boring, their author photo gets boring. Everything gets boring because they’re trying to be professional.
I think this goes back to that idea of experience. For research I like, what I guess I would call “primary research” of just talking to people. I’m online a lot but I like to call people, buy them lunch, interview them, do what you’re doing here. Do that kind of research.
The point is: you get to define it. How many people have we seen — thinking of Hugh Howey here because I regularly see some of his updates — where the definition of success and goals is unique to them. Any author has that. And I think that’s what we most admire about people, about J.K. Rowling for example. You don’t want it to be professional in a way where you’re now fitting yourself into a box because you think that’s the only path to success. Professional in the sense that you have processes in place, you have collaborators in place, and you just treat it with the sense of seriousness that a professional would.
Orna: And that you meet the standards that are necessary for a reader to enjoy your book with ease, which means the basics. And forgive me here but we always kind of need to remind people that they do need editors, that they do need to work with designers, that even the most independent minded self-publisher is not an island and no good book is ever produced by just one person. There is always a whole world behind every book.
We’ve only get ten minutes, Dan, and you and I could talk for days, so I would just like to wrap up by asking you for your top three tips. And I’ll do this every month when we speak, your top three ideas around what people absolutely should be doing around setting good goals and reaching them.
Dan: Ok, so three key things are:
- Find ten people who are doing what you want to do and talk to them, buy them lunch, some kind of long form conversation, however you can do it, hear from them.
- Etablish good habits, so I think that this idea of establishing a daily, a weekly, a monthly, a quarterly or yearly habit of measurement is very important. And
- Get collaborators. In some way, shape or form get collaborators.
This can be, as you said, hiring an editor, but for a lot of people can be a writing partner. I hire interns every year, and these are people who work five or ten hours a week for me. It’s not a huge commitment for them or for me. I have a lot of colleagues and friends that I will call regularly. I run a mastermind group.
There are all kinds of ways of building collaboration into what you do and I think that it helps you treat this more professionally but also helps you talk through what it is you want and how to get there. Instead of, how a lot of us fail, which is: it’s so much in our own minds that we’re crushed under the weight of our own expectations. And all we feel we have to do. And all that we don’t know.
Orna: Fantastic! And I will just add to that: a lot of this is learning by doing. Don’t wait until you have all the ducks in a row, just leap in and do something. So do something that Dan has recommended this month, today or tomorrow.
Ok, Dan, next month we will talk about those habits and how to turn things from, you know, the goal into something more established in our lives. But if people want to get in touch with you in the meantime and I know you have all sorts of useful things that you have on your website and so on. Tell people how they can reach you.
Dan: My site is wegrowmedia.com and we have a weekly newsletter of course and all the normal social media links there. Start there, there’s an almost ten year archive of blog posts between that and my older site. But then reach out to me with that contact information right on the site, if you have a question, tweet at me or shoot me an email. I’m always happy to help.
Orna: You’re fantastically available to people and wonderful and thank you so much for being available to the Go Creative audience and look forward to chatting again next month.
Dan: Thank you so much, have a great one.
Orna: You too.
Orna: So that’s it for our Creative Writing segment, apart from our reading which I’ll get to in a moment. Next week we’re going to be back talking about Creative Living and I’ll be doing another introduction of a regular contributor to this show. Suzanne Robichaud, a Canadian Hypnosis Master who is going to work with us in terms of getting down into our deep, imaginative minds. Suzanne and I will be talking about meditation, and hypnosis, and creative-mind fostering states, during that particular show each month. I’m looking forward to introducing her to you then.
And now, leaving you with a final reading. I thought it would be nice, as we were talking about writing, to read for you my first poem in my poetry pamphlet series Ten Thoughts About Love. It’s the first poem in the first pamphlet and the reason for that is it’s sort of my writing manifesto, if that’s the right word? Why I write and how I feel about it. I think it’s embedded in these two short stanzas.
Until next time… let’s go creative!
Orna: The Writers Call.
Your words must wash the floor for love, I heard it all declare. I kissed my pen, swore this decree to air. Then set to work on bended knee. A childlike creep through house and street, to clean through what’s encrusted there. It’s done for you, kind reader dear, who walks my words across the page, who seeks clear ground in marks I make. That glisten in your gleaning eye, that shines with mine. us both, to see, how in the clearing, all can be.
Paul: You’ve been tuned to Orna Ross’s Go Creative! Show, an audio-video broadcast about creative writing, creative publishing and creative living. You can subscribe to this show on YouTube, iTunes or Stitcher. Find out more about creativity and creativism at www.ornaross.com.
Now go create!