Why do you write?
I write to explore the human condition. Emotion: desire, envy, greed, joy, fear, worry, grief. Emotion underwrites, drives, rewards and punishes every aspect of our human life. Emotions are our undoing and our making. Tracking them takes us into the most extreme recesses of the human psyche and out to its greatest excesses. Where do the roots of an individual’s fear/anger lie? Creating a diversity of characters and subjecting them to a common stressor then seeing how and why they react is, for me, a way to comprehend the world and the people in it. The story may be fiction, the characters may be fictional, but the emotions are real.
How did you come to writing?
A desire to understand people and the world. (If I can write about it, maybe I can sort it out?)
Around age 14, I started writing bad poetry. Later, bad short stories and eventually poorly constructed, half-finished, flea-bitten novels. I never realised writing was a craft (how I came to think that is still a mystery).
Then one weekend I did a writing course and discovered the truth – that writing was a discipline, and boy, did I need it.
What were your greatest obstacles starting out? How did you overcome them?
Greatest obstacle was myself. (Still is, but for different reasons.) Some people fear their work is no good. I, unfortunately, thought my work was good and what was wrong with publishers that they couldn’t see it? Then my best writing buddy pointed out what was wrong with my work (a list) and I learned the greatest lesson of all: that I’m not the world’s best writer and never will be. But if I continue to learn and craft and practice, and work like I’ve never worked before, I can do okay.
How do you keep yourself motivated and disciplined?
My motivation comes from reminding myself that if I don’t write, there’ll be no book. Full stop. There’s no imperative. No-one’s got a gun to my head. No-one cares if I write or not. No-one cares if I get published or not. It’s pointless beating myself up or making excuses for not writing. Pointless (and seriously courting disappointment) to be motivated by the prospect of publication, money or awards, because there’s good chance they won’t happen. I write because I want to, that’s all. That doesn’t mean I find it easy; I don’t. But what. worthwhile. was ever easy? If I’m motivated by anything it’s to find out what is the best I’m capable of producing.
Discipline is mainly consistency. Family, friends and my own wellbeing are top priority. Then writing. I’d like to write for 4 hours, five or six days a week. In reality I probably average 2-3 hours a day five days a week. Not ideal, but life must be engaged in (roses sniffed, clouds watched, ocean felt as well as all the tedious stuff) or I will become stale, and so will my writing. Disciplined writing is good, it’s necessary, but it doesn’t rule my life.
How do you manage your time with everything else you do? How has that changed from when you were starting out?
When I began writing I’d write frenetically for a couple of weeks and then nothing for a month. Lack of consistency made returning to work like starting an enormous engine from scratch and spending too much time getting it running smoothly again. Now I try to stay with the manuscript until I have a complete draft. I need to move in with my characters, not visit them now and then. Sure, we both need time on our own, but not too much. All relationships must be nurtured to survive, even fictional ones.
Where do you write? How do you arrange your working space?
I have a little office to write in because I need a quiet atmosphere. No chatter, clatter or music. I am very immersive and hate being interrupted. I’m not a creature of habit and my working space is not organised. I like change. I use a computer but sometimes, particularly at the initial, creative stage, I handwrite, usually the moment I wake in the morning. Generally I go from bed to computer. Hopefully someone will slide a cup of tea under the door (imagination required for that) but otherwise, Please Do Not Disturb.
What are your essential writing tools?
Tools? Most important of all: imagination. No imagination – no book.
A 2B pencil. I like twirly pencils.
A fountain pen. I like good fountain pens.
Smooth writing paper. Must be smooth.
What else is there?
What’s the one thing you wish you’d known when you were starting out as a writer?
I wish I’d known writing was a craft. That talent is the spark that ignites the engine but craft is the fuel that makes it go. I wish I’d known I had to practice and work, just like javelin throwers or cellists do. Because if I’d known a story or a book doesn’t arrive fully formed or fast, if I’d known it was a marathon, I’d have started working sooner.
What do you read and how do you read as a writer?
My reading preferences and reading styles have changed over the years. On advice, I used to read widely – good writing and bad, and across most genres. But, being easily influenced by style, I now try now to read only writing to which I aspire. Generally, that means literary fiction, but I also enjoy the gripping read of well-written general fiction. My non-fiction reading includes philosophy, psychology, brain science, memoir and spiritual/metaphysical.
If I’m engaged with a book and its characters, “good”/“bad” – doesn’t matter – I read carefully, slowly, appreciatively. I mull over phrases and sentences that say much without saying much (!). I try to examine how the author has achieved what I admire and learn from it. But I can be an impatient reader, easily bored with irrelevant or lengthy passages and descriptions and messages so vaguely/subtly delivered I miss the point.
How do you overcome ‘writer’s block’?
The biggest writer’s block I ever had was a brick wall. I hit it while writing an earlier version of my novel, Last Day in the Dynamite Factor.
I was trying to make my hero do something he would not: have an extra-marital affair. Because the character I had created was not that kind of person and I could not write a credible scene. Some people will say that’s nonsense, that a writer has control over their characters. But if you give a character particular attributes and then ignore them, in my experience you’ll run into trouble.
For the record, I ditched the 45,000 words of that draft and started again from scratch. Ouch. Two years work. It hurt. But it was either change the character or change the story. I changed the story.
Happily, most of my writer’s blocks are fairly easily overcome by stream-of-consciousness writing. Pencil, computer – doesn’t matter. Just start writing words, any words, and don’t stop for anything. Do not think, do not plan, do not let that pencil (or those fingers) stop moving. Even if you can only write “the, the, the” it doesn’t matter. Soon – as long as you are not trying to control the process – other words will appear. Eventually words that relate to your story, just a phrase or a couple of words. Do this exercise for ten minutes (or more – you may finish up on a roll) twice a day until the block goes. You may only need to do it once.
What one piece of advice would you give to aspiring writers?
Best advice? Treat writing as a craft. The fastest horse in the world will not win the Melbourne Cup if he doesn’t know which he’s going, how to pace himself, when to pull back, when to let go. Good writing and story-telling are skills that must be acquired. Do courses. Read books. Read critically. What do you like/dislike? Why? What do you think is well/poorly done? Why? How would you express that sentence? That dialogue?
Listen to the suggestions of other writers and published authors but don’t be bound by them. Your writing is up to you.
Anna Faulkner’s novel, The Beloved, won the 2011 Queensland Premier’s Literary Award (Emerging Author). It was commended for the 2013 FAW Christina Stead Award, won the Kibble and was short-listed for the Miles Franklin Award. Last Day in the Dynamite Factory, (Picador, 2015) was shortlisted for the 2015 Readings Prize. She is presently working on number three.