A Writer’s Life: Frequently Asked Questions 4

A few weeks ago I started a series of blogs to answer the questions I am commonly asked about when interviewed about my writing and the writing life. If you’re a start at the start kind of person, you can find PART 1 , PART 2 and PART 3 here, although, they can be read out of order.

Now, for part 4:

Do you have a writing routine?

Yes, but it changes due to life changes. After I had my first son – he was born very premature and needed a lot of care – I got postnatal depression and I went to see someone. She noted very quickly that I was a creative person and asked me why I wasn’t doing anything creative anymore, especially my writing, as she thought that I would be able to fit that around my son’s needs in a way I couldn’t doing performing.

I had a bunch of excuses about not having the right amount of time because pre-children I had this routine where I’d heat up my heat bags, get a cup of tea, then sit down and play Mahjong on the computer while I drank my tea and got my head into a space to write before starting to write. A writing block would have to be for at least 2 hours, so in my head, I didn’t think it was worth it if I didn’t have a space of 2 hours – which of course I never had with my son’s routine. She looked at me with this expression then just said, ‘You need to get over that. You don’t need all that stuff to write. Just write. You need it so just do it.’

Image: Hard Success. Paolo de Santis: Dreamstime.com

It was the slap in the face I needed to make me realise life changes and our routines should never be so rigid as to stop us doing the things we need and want to do. At the moment, I still heat up my heatbags and get my tea, I turn on my writing playlist and then I start to write. Sometimes I look over the last thing I’ve written, sometimes over notes I’m writing, but I just write until I have to stop because other life things intrude (or my back gets sore and I have to go do something to work out the kinks).

To succeed in this writing game, it is really important to try to get into some kind of routine for writing so that you can write each day, or each second day or whatever it is you need – just making it regular. But it is also important just to take the moments that come up. I wrote on my iPad for some time because I could take it with me and would write for 5 or 10 minutes while waiting outside the kid’s school to pick them up, or when they were doing their sporting or music activities. I got really good at popping in and out of my novel in quick bursts. Writing like this does often mean you will need to do more editing later because it’s all in bits and pieces and you can often repeat things over and over because you don’t realise you’ve already written that thought 10 times. But that’s what editing is for – and you can’t edit if you don’t have the words down on the page.

Writing with friends

Another time I got up every day at 5am and wrote for an hour before everyone got up (I can’t write at night because then I can’t sleep). Then I started to take my computer to work and wrote in my lunch break or in the half hour between dropping the kids off at school and starting work. I have also found that having regular writing group sessions and yearly writing retreats helps with goal setting and reaching those goals.

In a nutshell, my routine for writing changed as my life changed. If it’s important, you’ll find the way – just don’t expect it ever to be given to you.

So basically, find a way to help you write when you can and write.

Research and World Building

Do you research before, during or after that first draft?

During. As a pantser, I don’t know what I need to know until I know it, so I stop and do the research I need to do as I come to something I want to know more about. I will also do further research if I need to before embarking on the first big redraft so that I go into it knowing what I need to know to fill out my characters’ worlds.

Have you travelled to any of the places that inspired your stories or where they’re set?

Yes. I think there is a small gem of truth in the old adage ‘write what you know’ although I don’t believe it means what people always take it to mean. I think if you can put some little essence of your truth – whether it’s a place you’ve been, or a character like someone you’ve known, or a job you’ve done, or even as simple as a feeling you’ve felt or seen loved ones go through – then it will make what you write just a little more real.

Image: Pack Bound Cover. Used with permission. Harper Collins

I do set my books in places I haven’t been, but I often have somewhere I have been in there too. The starting scene for my Pack Bound Series is on a run called Federation at Mt Buller and was inspired by an actual incident where a snow boarder took me out and hurt my knee when I was on that run – although he wasn’t a super hot charming guy like Jason, but a bit of a dick who took off before making sure if I could get down the run myself. But despite his dickishness and the absolute lack of romance in the real situation, my brain did the ‘what if’ thing over many years and when I sat down to write that particular day, it’s what I started with – a meet-cute on the ski slopes.

My CoalCliff Stud Series is set up near Walhalla in Victoria which I visited many years ago and it always stuck in my head as a place rife with stories to tell.

Have you interviewed people to suit characters / jobs in your books?

I have interviewed people after my character tells me they are something, never the other way around. My research is done to make the world seem more real, I don’t tend to use research to inspire my stories. Never saying never, but it’s not how it’s worked for me so far.

For instance, I interviewed someone who runs country medical practices to get info on setting up and running a country medical practice for Blazing Fear after my character decided she was a doctor doing just that. I also interviewed a CFA volunteer for that same book when my hero and his family had to fight a bush fire.

Are there any particular ways you go about world building? Is it story first or world first?

For me it is always story and characters first. The world grows out of them. I work in Scrivener now, so as I build my world, I copy and paste those bits and pieces into a world-building folder so that I have them for a reference. Prior to working in Scrivener, I had a pad for each book/series and wrote in my research, character details, the rules of my world, hierarchies and systems and so on.

What/where do you think is the best place to start for an aspiring writer wanting to world build in fantasy/scifi/romanceland?

Read and read and read all sorts of different novels in those genres. Think about when you were sucked into a world and try to figure out how and why it worked for you. Then think about then when you are writing. Always note down everything – from the strange word you make up, to the religions and clothes and rules for magic etc etc. And keep referring back to them.

And of course, one of the most important things is to have fun doing it!

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