For my self-initiated projects, I find a story (trip over them, usually) that makes me go WOW! and I just have to tell it. Usually, these are historical events that grab my imagination (eg the plague in Brisbane in 1900, the Shearers Strike of 1891, kids being evacuated to Australia from Britain during WW2 under the CORB scheme) and I want to put my own characters into the middle of the action and see what happens IF.
On the other hand, I do a lot of commissioned work for educational publishers and that means a deadline. That’s a pretty good incentive!
How did you come to writing?
I can’t remember when I didn’t write. As soon as I learned to write I used to make little books of cut-up paper sewn together and write stories and draw pictures in them. Then my long-suffering family had to read them. I was heavily influenced by Enid Blyton.
What were your greatest obstacles starting out? How did you overcome them?
Finding a publisher … I actually used to write scripts for video and TV, and I wrote for the Australian Children’s Television Foundation’s “Lift Off”. They decided to make picture books out of some of the animated stories, and asked if I would like to turn my “Dancing Pants” script into a picture book – or they could get someone else to do it if I wasn’t interested. I would have killed to write that book. I had never had a book published. I knew what was important! The other way in, was that my boss at the Education Department film unit knew some people at Jacaranda Press, and told me they were looking for stories. She suggested I send them some. I did – and they took them. It went from there.
How do you keep yourself motivated and disciplined?
A deadline is a wonderful thing. Works well for commissioned work. For self-initiated projects, it’s so easy to procrastinate. But if you want to have a book out next year … I often set myself a deadline, calculate how many words a day I need to write to meet it … and then procrastinate.
How do you manage your writing time with everything else you do? How has that changed from when you were starting out?
When I was employed, it was done at night. (My daughter – also a writer – told me recently she used to fall asleep at night to the clicking of my trusty Olivetti.) For the last twelve or so years, I’ve been self-employed. I write in the mornings (I’m a morning person). The afternoons (when I flag) are for research, answering emails etc. And procrastinating.
Where do you write? How do you arrange your working space?
I have a room set up as a study – desk, computer, bookcases, filing cabinets. Piles of stuff on the floor – but I know where everything is! I can write on planes, used to do it while waiting for kids at sports events etc. Best thinking is done while swimming laps in the pool.
What are your essential writing tools?
Pens (mostly souvenired from hotels!) and A4 pads. That’s for the first draft. Only then does it go on computer.
What’s the one thing you wish you’d known when you were starting out as a writer?
The organisations there are to join. Qld Writers Centre. SCBWI. Historical Novelists Assn. Women Writers of NSW etc. Maybe they didn’t all exist then … You really need to talk to other writers.
What do you read and how do you read as a writer?
Lots of childrens and YA. As well as adult fiction. I keep up with the latest publications in Magpies, the CBCA newsletter, on e-newsletters, reviews in newspapers, recommendations from other writers and readers. I love wandering around bookshops and libraries. They are treasure troves.
How do you overcome ‘writer’s block’?
Frankly, I don’t think it exists. There are times, of course, when something catastrophic happens in life and you can’t do anything at all. But if it’s just that the work isn’t progressing (or even starting) it’s probably because there is a problem attached to it. The thing to do is locate the problem and solve it.
What one piece of advice would you give to aspiring writers?
Keep going. Just keep going. Everyone has to serve an apprenticeship. Everyone gets rejections. Everyone gets dud reviews. But if you really believe in what you’re doing, sooner or later you will come across that publisher, or editor, or agent, who gets you. And you’ll live happily ever after. (No, you won’t, of course, but it seemed a good way to end!)
Pamela Rushby has worked in advertising; as a pre-school teacher; and as a writer and producer of educational television, audio and multimedia. She currently freelances as a writer, and loves delving into history to find her stories. Her books and films have won many awards. Her website is pamelarushby.com