It’s an addiction. I think we are all hardwired to tell stories and it’s a pure mental challenge to discover what exactly this story is, that is knocking at the inside of your head.
How did you come to writing?
I’ve always been a big reader, but I only started writing when I had children and was at home a bit more. I started off writing travel articles and was excited to get them published, so then I moved on to short stories then a radio play, which was commissioned by ABC Radio National, and finally to novels. It was a progression which involved building up my confidence as a writer.
What were your greatest obstacles starting out? How did you overcome them?
I think my greatest obstacle was having confidence in myself, that I had something to say and that others would be interested to hear it. So I started small and as I was encouraged by success, moved on to more challenging work. I feel like I’m still growing in that way – each book feels like a step up from the last. I have a writing group which is a great cheer squad for me. When I feel like I am writing the worst story ever told, they encourage me to keep going.
How do you keep yourself motivated and disciplined?
I think this might be a bit unconventional, but I have a range of projects on the go at a time. Then, when I want to procrastinate on one project, I just turn to another and make progress on that one. I feel like I’m having my cake and eating it too, that way!
How do you manage your writing time with everything else you do? How has that changed from when you were starting out?
I’ve recently left my part-time job which I’ve held for many years, so now I am free to concentrate on writing. For the most part though, my writing has been done on a part-time basis while my kids were at school. I was very disciplined with myself, basically I locked myself into my desk from the time they left for the bus until they came home again. Now, I have more time. It’s great being able to keep a story in my head every day, but I’m also spending more time doing other things, like surfing. I’ve decided that’s okay.
Where do you write? How do you arrange your working space?
I have an office with a stand up desk which I love. I think it keeps me more awake and it has plenty of room to spread out my papers on it. After a few hours though, I’ll often unplug my laptop and go and sit on the couch. It’s nice to change positions.
What are your essential writing tools?
I’ve just started writing with Scrivener which is working well for me so far. I like how you can break everything down into scenes, then you can fool yourself that you’re just working on one small thing at a time, instead of a big ungainly project. I have a notebook where I write down ideas and, depending on what I’m writing, sometimes I’ll have an iPad next to me so I can Google without changing screens. At other times, I like to turn off the WiFi. I feel so much more centred and focused on the writing when the WiFi is turned off.
What’s the one thing you wish you’d known when you were starting out as a writer?
Publication isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. I thought that I’d be happy forever once I’d had a book published, but it’s not true. Looking back, it has been the writing itself and the friends I’ve made through it that has been the greatest reward. The process of being published and the brouhaha that goes along with that I still find challenging!
What do you read and how do you read as a writer?
I read broadly and I read a lot. I go through phases of focusing on particular types of writing. My work in progress is a Young Adult novel, so I’ve been reading a lot of YA. When a particular book appeals to me I try to figure out what it is that the writer is doing right. When something feels clunky, I think about what has gone wrong. I’m also in a book group which I like because I read books I might not otherwise choose and it’s interesting hearing other readers’ responses to books. I learn a lot from that.
How do you overcome ‘writer’s block’?
See question 4 – I swap projects. For me this feels like dessert after a meal. You might have had enough of one project, but you still have brain space for another. In the meantime, your subconscious mind can go to work on your first project and when you come back to it – voila – you know what to do. It seems like magic, but it almost always works.
What one piece of advice would you give to aspiring writers?
Try to enjoy the creative process as much as possible and not focus too much on publication as an outcome. Writing can be a bit like yoga. Sometimes you’ll enjoy it and sometimes it will feel like torture, but it’s worth it because it brings you to a greater understanding of yourself and your world.
Lisa Walker is the author of the novels Liar Bird; Sex, Lies and Bonsai (HarperCollins, 2012 and 2013) and Arkie’s Pilgrimage to the Next Big Thing (Random House, 2015). Her radio play, Baddest Backpackers, was produced by ABC Radio National in 2008. She is a PhD in creative writing student at The University of Queensland.