I love spinning a good untruth to make the world seem more manageable, more interesting, more understandable. Whether it’s daydreams, spinning golden lies to children, or creating new worlds in novels, I use stories to escape. And what better way to end up with an unlimited supply of stories but to invent your own? I also love the feeling of being ‘in the zone’, so immersed in your creation you have no idea how much time has gone by.
How did you come to writing?
I started writing when I was 13 after I learnt Isobelle Carmody had started her first novel at 14. I thought, if she can do it, then why can’t I? And I’ve never stopped. That was over 15 years ago now.
What were your greatest obstacles starting out? How did you overcome them?
I learnt very early on that if I took the pants-ing route (making things up without an outline) it took me years and years to finish a novel. And if I choose to type directly into the computer my procrastination factor doubles by five million percent. So these days I’ll spend 6 months or more meticulously planning a novel, for which I will type a bullet point outline of each scene, then using the outline I will write my first draft by hand in a notebook to avoid the dreaded blinking cursor. Spending an hour a day sees the first draft done in about five months. Not too shabby for someone who started out writing a single book across five years.
How do you keep yourself motivated and disciplined?
My outline. Because I always know what comes next I’m never ‘stuck’ for what to write that day. It really helps you keep up the discipline of writing at least an hour a day when you can’t pretend you don’t know what you’re going to write. To keep myself motivated in the planning stage, I meet with some writing friends every couple of weeks to brainstorm trouble points in the narrative. Without these wonderful human bouncing boards I would take double the time to outline.
How do you manage your writing time with everything else you do? How has that changed from when you were starting out?
When I first started I used to write in bursts on weekends, any time I had more than an hour (as it normally takes me about 20mins to get into the ‘zone’ so anything less wasn’t worth it). I’m lucky that I am in a position to freelance from home every day now, so I am able to prioritise an hour of writing in the morning every day as part of my ‘long term career goals’. It really is amazing what you can achieve just putting in an hour at some point in the day. In saying that, I’ve always been a binge writer, in that I will do this for the length of a project, and then not write anything for 6 months as I sort out what I’m going to do with that book and get ready for a new one. If life goes down the toilet for a week, I’m also happy to write that off and not stress myself out about not having kept to my ‘regime’.
Where do you write? How do you arrange your working space?
At the desk in my living room when editing, on my couch or in my bed when I’m writing in my notebook. When I’m pounding out a first draft I try to write immediately after I wake up in bed because my internal editor is still a bit groggy and I can shut her out of the ‘zone’. I try to keep everything as tidy as possible to dampen my procrastination tendencies.
What are your essential writing tools?
My space pen (it will write at any angle and folds up super small. NASA, if you need a writer in space, I’ve got the tools and I’m ready to go!), my notebook, and my laptop. The laptop keeps all of my research notes, any images I’ve kept as reference material, and of course is the ground zero for all editing.
What’s the one thing you wish you’d known when you were starting out as a writer?
Get yourself a writing mentor, stat! And join a critique/writing group, double stat! The only way you are going to improve your writing is getting into the habit of other people reading it, giving you feedback, and then learning and improving from that feedback. Keeping your writing close to your chest only sets you back in developing your talent.
What do you read and how do you read as a writer?
For a very long time the only things I read were young adult books, and while I still do read a lot of them, I now read across genres, from thriller, to action, to crime, to chicklit, to fantasy, to sci-fi. It gives your work a much greater depth than if you just read in your genre, because you can take your story places out of the stereotype forest. As my skills have developed I’ve found that I’ve become less tolerant of badly plotted novels and will actually give up on books now, when previously I just had to read all the way through. Sometimes I will re-read favourite authors to see how they dealt with dialogue tags, or where their turning points were, or how they made a character seem so real, and then try to consciously mirror that in my own writing.
How do you overcome ‘writer’s block’?
Outlining and having writer friends to bounce ideas off. And also turning up every day to the laptop or notebook. Write crap until the muse comes back from her coffee break.
What one piece of advice would you give to aspiring writers?
Same as number 8.
Emily Craven is a YA author (The Grand Adventures of Madeline Cain) and the previous Digital Producer for QWC. She blogs about ebooks and indie publishing and runs Story City, an interactive, real-life choose-your-adventure project for which she was awarded the Brisbane City Council Innovation Award and the QLA Young Writers & Publishers award.