Delighted to welcome Roz Morris, novelist, speaker, writing coach, ghost-writer & author of the inspired Nail Your Novel series, with her 5 essential writing habits to inspire your process & prose.
Before I ever had a byline of my own on a book, I wrote books for others. I’m a novelist, speaker, blogger and writing coach, but as well as that I’m a ghost-writer. I’ve been the secret scribbler of books by a range of notable people, from self-help manuals by life gurus to thrillers by tough guys. (Brief aside: it’s not just memoirs that are ghost-written. Absolutely any book might be, including novels).
Writing as others has definitely left its mark on my own writing habits, and for the better.
When you write as a ghost, you’re not yourself. You’re channelling another person’s voice and values. Ghost-writers are chameleons, actors, disguisers. The upside for my own fiction? I’m aware I can adapt my narrative register to suit the book. So my first novel (My Memories of a Future Life) had a confiding, yearning voice. My second (Lifeform Three) had a fable tone, with foreboding undercurrents. My third is majoring in polyphony, with a total of six narrators.
Writing what you don’t know
My passport hardly ever gets any outings, but I’ve written books set on every continent, in the most adventurous environments. My real-life habitat is the nuanced world of words, but I’ve portrayed the mindset of people who deal regularly in life and death. So I’m unfazed by a subject I don’t know. I’ve learned that research can take you anywhere and transform you into anyone. That bookworms can be intrepid adventurers because we are used to listening, questioning and noticing.
Before I ghost-wrote, I hated to plan a novel. It seemed to spoil the fun. I’d start the fingers and follow my mind. But an imagination unfettered is a dangerous thing. Few of us can wander without map and emerge in a useful place – especially not in time to hit a deadline. When you ghost-write, there is no time to amble aimlessly, and you have companions to consider.
Editors, clients and their literary agents or managers want to know where you’re going, your route (plot or structure), who you’ll include (characters) and how you’ll tie it up. I chafed against this initially, until I found that writing a book with a plan meant I’d be well set to finish. And that boundaries pressed me to be more creative, not less.
A tyre-kicking ethic
When you ghost-write, you need to let others contribute. They might challenge the way you’ll use the structure, characters, plot twists and any number of other special ingredients. They might demand you rethink a plot thread, or ditch a section, or turn a male character female.
You discover your material could fit any number of shapes. When I write my own books I still imagine I have to face the committee. I’ll kick every idea to see if it has more to offer. Twist the story angles, rewrite scenes with different characters and swap their dialogue, change their dilemmas. Everything can change. And it often does.
All freelancers know this. At the start of every book I think I can’t do it. I don’t know enough, or the wordcount seems too daunting, or there are too many passages I can’t yet envisage. Or it seems too long since I last started a book. But I’ve always got it done, and I always will.
Thank you, Roz.
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Roz Morris published nearly a dozen novels and achieved sales of more than 4 million copies – and nobody saw her name because she was a ghost-writer. If you’re interested in knowing more about becoming a ghost-writer she has launched a professional-level self-study course at the website of publishing guru Jane Friedman.
Roz is now proudly publishing as herself with two acclaimed literary novels. She has also been a writing coach, editor and mentor for more than 20 years with award-winning authors among her clients. She has a book series for writers, Nail Your Novel (and a blog), and teaches creative writing masterclasses for The Guardian newspaper in London.