There’s a very large part of me that doesn’t want to think about how long I’ve known Tansy… I joined ASIM after Conflux 2, I think it was, which was way back in 2005, so I guess about then… I edited Tansy for The Outcast, read her work as much as I can cause she is a seriously awesome writer and through her blog and her work with Galactic Suburbia, she’s one of my feminist guides. Here’s her thoughts on her work habits. Tansy’s thoughts are particularly relevant for those of you with young children.
1) What is your writing schedule?
I have to keep my schedule flexible depending on the time of year, the current projects or focus, and whether it’s a daycare day (for my toddler), school day (for my seven year old) or a weekend. Mostly I write myself a short, succinct To Do list each day and try to knock off the items – typically it will mean reaching a particular daily word count, plus admin tasks, household and non-writing tasks, and other things to be squeezed in between 9 ish and 2:30 on the dot (when I have to go on the school run).
2) Do you set yourself word count aims or time limits to keep yourself on track? What are your aims/limits?
I find that aims and time limits are important to me, to build steady writing momentum and get anything at all done in the bite sized work “days” that I have. At the moment, with no active deadlines from publishers, I am setting myself daily, weekly and monthly word count targets, and applying that to all current fiction projects. My overall goal for this year is to add STUFF to my body of work, including novels and short stories, but I am allowing myself a lot more flexibility than in previous years. When I have a publisher or grant-based deadline, writing That Book or Those Stories takes on much greater priority.
Right now I am aiming for 200,000 words of new fiction this year, 50K of which will be for Nanowrimo in November. I’m hoping to get at least 1 finished YA and 1 finished children’s novel out of the year, and substantial progress on an adult fantasy novel I am returning to, plus a bunch of saleable short stories. This month’s plan is to write 20,000 words, which is 5,000 words a week, which is 1,000 words a day x 5. Allowing myself to have weekends was hard to get my head around, but helps.
3) Do you work on more than one project at a time? If so, how do you organise it?
I usually have one primary and a couple of secondary projects. This is the first year in a very long time I have allowed myself to have multiple projects, none of which are headline acts. I can write half a chapter of a novel, or 200 words each across 5 short stories if I want. Later in the year, as my projects consolidate, I intend to be a bit firmer about prioritising certain novels, but right now I’m letting myself write quite freely which is – terrifying and enchanting at the same time.
4) If you have paid employment apart from writing, how do you organise your time so you can write?
My paid employment is pretty minor at the moment, though in previous years I have done a lot more teaching, etc. I supervise exams at the university a couple of times a year, and teach the occasional workshop, most of which don’t impinge too heavily on my writing, though I have to be aware that my wordcount will suffer in exams months.
5) If you have family, how do you organise your time so you can write?
This is the big one for me, because I have a two year old and a seven year old, and thus it would be easy to slip into no writing time at all. Every spare half hour has to be fought for and won all over again. I have to try to have as much focus as I can when I am child-free. I have to pay for help, such as my two year old’s 2 daycare days a week, which is brutally expensive but essential to my peace of mind as well as work time. I have to rely on family support for childcare as well. And I had to learn two very vital lessons: firstly, not to be precious about when and where and under what circumstances I get writing done, and secondly, not to have unrealistic expectations about what can be done in any given day. Allowing myself not to write actively during school holidays, for instance, feels like a ridiculous luxury, but can be the little pill of calm I need to keep myself on an even keel.
6) How do you get family and friends to respect the writing time and leave you be?
For the most part I have a very supportive and understanding family. But even the best and loveliest partner and children can demand more than their share of you, without meaning to, and my job is to say no when I need to, and to make sure that everyone’s needs are met including my own. If I end up bitter, resentful and stressed, they’re going to suffer, so they have learned to take me seriously when I need to set up extra boundaries or ask for extra time/space/freedom to go to events, etc.
7) How do you ensure your health is a priority?
I don’t do enough of this, considering that I work from home and thus should have more flexibility for exercise etc. built into my working day. But when your working day can be as short as 4-5 hours, it can sting to try to factor in time that doesn’t involve the keyboard! When Justine Larbalestier sent out her warning message about RSI a few years ago, I panicked a bit and signed up for Pilates sessions, and I’m so glad I did. I go once a week, and seem to be one of the few people going who is there to pre-empt rather than cope with some form of injury.
My mother babysits so I don’t have to use paid daycare for my Pilates time, which I am very grateful for. And I pay for it out of my own income rather than the household income, which means it comes directly out of my book budget. That’s probably good for me too!
8) What do you do to keep your ‘well of creativity’ stocked up?
I neglect this side of writing shamefully, because I tend to be either writing with firm, fierce momentum, or collapsing in a heap. So I don’t have the balance right yet! Reading, watching great TV, listening to podcasts, talking industry with my friends and quilting all make me feel happy, relaxed and inspired, and yet I can often neglect all these things because I feel that all work time should be WORK TIME. Long walks on the beach sound nice, but I pretty much hate the outdoors. More and more as I get older, though I do credit the nasty UV in Tasmania and my disastrously fair skin for a good part of this bias on my part.
9) How do you cope with the days/weeks that you just don’t want to write?
I justify it to myself, if I can. I allow myself the ‘fallow’ times. But mostly I throw goals at myself and try to keep moving because I know that once I stop, starting again is so very hard. Having spent the last two years juggling a baby with serious publishing deadlines… it would be very easy this year to look at my sudden lack of deadlines, and my growing daughters who want me to spend time with them and think, hmm. Time off? But too much of that and you never get back to it. I don’t want to give up what I have. So I let myself have the days that writing doesn’t get done, but I also make myself pay for those by making up the words later. Pressure can be a good thing, if it doesn’t actually make you explode.
10) How do you fit other writer career commitments into your schedule so it doesn’t unduly affect the writing? Eg publicity, attending conventions
I probably spend too much time on the internet, blogging, reading other people’s blogs, tweeting, etc. But it’s the thing that reminds me what I’m doing! The main thing I do is not tricking myself into thinking that it’s work. Of course, it is work. it can take huge chunks out of my tiny work days, and can sometimes cause more stress or writer’s block or whatever than anything else in my life. But by telling myself it is fun leisure activity, I tend to make a reasonable amount of time for it, and limit it when all the other things in my life are feeling the pinch. Of course it means I don’t get any REAL leisure time, which is something I need to do more about, but hey. Only two more years and my toddler will be at school!
I love conventions but the combination of finances and small children has limited my involvement in them over the years. Podcasting with Galactic Suburbia is probably the biggest thing that has made me not mind that – it feels like we get a convention of our own, every fortnight!
11) What changes have you made to your habits over the years? What are the mistakes that you used to make, habits that didn’t work for you?
I change my habits yearly, sometimes monthly. So many habits that didn’t work! The biggest change, as I mentioned earlier, was allowing myself to have weekends, instead of treating all days equally. It gives me a chance to renew my energies, to flop and hang out with my family (thereby making up for shameful neglect on other days), to read, do housework, etc. I have spent my whole life working freelance, whether writing, studying, or whatever, so this is a big change for me but it has made everything else sustainable. It is tough, though – these are two days of the week when the Other Parent is home, therefore I could conceivably get a hell of a lot of work done. But at what cost? I’m rather fond of my family, so having this time with them isn’t a sacrifice. Also I can use the weekends to catch up on all the little things that get dropped/forgotten/not achieved in the week – if I was working on a daily wordcount on a 7 day a week system, something would explode.
Of course, when Nanowrimo rolls around, all bets are off! But the only reason that works for me is because I’m not trying to match that pace every month.
12) RSI and skeletal problems are proving to be big problems for writers – what suggestions would you make to ensure up and comers don’t suffer?
If you have two children, you never get to sit at your computer long enough to develop repetitive injuries! I joke, but right now that’s a fact for me. I don’t have long stretches to write in because I have so little time to work. It’s something I need to keep an eye on for the future, though, as my time expands. That DOES happen, right?
Also, Pilates is wonderful. I wish I’d been this aware of my body and how to treat it well as a teenager. Though if we did it as teenagers we’d probably end up hating it like PE or Health Ed class… man. I wish I had THIS BRAIN when I was a teenager, too. I would have been awesome
Tansy Rayner Roberts is the author of the Creature Court trilogy: Power and Majesty, The Shattered City and Reign of Beasts. Her short story collection, Love and Romanpunk, was released last year from Twelfth Planet Press. She is one of the voices of the Hugo-nominated Galactic Suburbia podcast. You can find her at her blog at http://tansyrr.com
and on Twitter as @tansyrr.