Astoria resident Ann Ornie is known locally for being a writer and podcast producer. In the last six years, her work has been published around the region in Coast Weekend, the North Coast Squid Literary Magazine, Rain Magazine and other publications. In 2019, she won the Haunted Astoria Writer’s Showcase. And monthly, she hosts Coast Community Radio’s podcast “Cold Coast,” which explores the stories of unidentified and missing persons cases.
Ahead of a Coast Weekend fiction contest, Ornie shared some of her writing tips with Coast Weekend for those who are interested in writing.
Coast Weekend: What does your writing process look like when you’re getting started on a new project?
Ann Ornie: When I’m starting a project, I don’t really know it’s starting. Usually I get an image in my head. Sometimes I take a picture to remember the image, then I go back over it ... As time passes, a story or poem will form. Sometimes, like with poetry, it’ll appear the same day. I’ll let it sit, then go back and read it. I do very little editing on my poetry.
When I’m doing non-fiction, the amount of work that goes into that and the amount of research shapes the story … It’s really stressful because you don’t want to screw up. When it comes to fiction, usually those characters and settings have been with me a really long time; they’re sitting in my unconscious. When I sit down to write, they’ll start to bubble up. Then I’ll have something with substance, like a short story or a book. I often don’t know what I have until it comes up during the process.
CW: How do you find time to write?
AO: For a really long time I just worked and went to school. A few years ago, I was getting to an age where I felt that I’m not old but I have to make myself a priority now. I asked myself, ‘What are the non-negotiables in my life?’ Family and writing are the two non-negotiables.
About four years ago I really had to start carving out time. I started seeking out jobs where I could work four days a week and dedicate the fifth day of the week to writing. Even now, when I have my own business, I still have writing days. Those are the days that I really put down a word count.
I’ll edit throughout the rest of the week. Right now I’m editing a book. It’s hard to just sit down and edit. My days right now are half writing the book and half editing the book.
CW: What does your editing process look like?
AO: Usually I’ll read my work out loud. Then, you can tell if the word flow sounds right. Sometimes I’ll record myself. Things will jump out that you wouldn’t have caught by just reading to yourself.
Then, I print out the piece and hand-edit. Then I sit down and re-enter the edits after I print it out. That can take two or three times.
I also work with a critique group. I feel really lucky; I stumbled across it. We have 10 minutes each week to read a piece. I’ll read then get critiques and potential edits from the other members. I’ll edit sometimes up until I read my piece during the group.
Taking critique is kind of like the next step in writing. As a writer, you don’t know whether what you have is good. You send your piece out to people and some people are focused on an aspect of your writing that you’re attached to or that is a piece of your voice. You have to take things with a grain of salt … Sometimes people don’t get your writing style and that’s alright.
I can’t react right away to my feedback. I have to process the critique. I have to get past my ego. Then I edit the pieces I see fit.
CW: Do you have suggestions for people who are interested in writing?
AO: If they’re interested in writing, they likely already have a story to tell. They have to have a storyline and whatever medium they’re going to use. For me, I always have my notebook. It can be whatever medium. You need to be able to write your ideas down, mistakes and all.
When you go back, when you set aside writing time, you’ll have that idea in the raw that you can work off of. If you can only write for eight minutes, write for eight minutes.
Remember, you have to have the utensil for your job. Just keep it with you.
Attending workshops is a really good idea for gaining new skills and perspectives. You’re basically a student. There are so many workshops in the area. The more you can take the better.
And finally, have a trusted person take a look at your work and give you gentle feedback. There’s constructive and deconstructive. Having them look at your work and point out your blind spots is only going to help you grow. For me, it helped having people show me what I was doing wrong. Don’t be afraid to lean into the uncomfortable.