Karen’s one of the fabulous folks I’ve met through my years of organising conventions. She’s extremely generous with her time and her advice and I’ve found her to be a great inspiration in my own writing journey. Here’s her writing habits.
1) What is your writing schedule?
That depends on the workload and the timing of deadlines. I tend to be a feast or famine writer , doing better when I take a deep breath and dive in and keep on writing till I hit the end. On balance, though, what happens is that I’m more restrained in the early stage of getting the story down, and then at some point between halfway and the end I hit a kind of critical mass and the rest of my life goes on hold until I finish. I wish I could be more consistently measured, it would be less stressful, but the brain wants what the brain wants!
Right now I’m working through the first draft of a new book. Leaving aside interruptions for stupid health hiccups, I write 6-7 days a week. It’s too easy to lose momentum and focus, especially in the early days of a new project.
2) Do you set yourself word count aims or time limits to keep yourself on track? What are your aims/limits?
For the most part, I work to a daily wordcount. Depending on deadline and real life, I aim for 2-4k a day. I have been known to push it harder, but I don’t want to do that any more. The cost is too high in terms of emotional and physical stress.
3) Do you work on more than one project at a time? If so, how do you organise it?
There was a point where I was working on any 3 projects at a time — first draft of one, polish of another and galley proofing of a third. Never again!!!!! And certainly, the complexity of the current project demands that I focus on one thing at a time.
4) If you have paid employment apart from writing, how do you organise your time so you can write?
I’m lucky enough to be writing full time right now.
5) If you have family, how do you organise your time so you can write?
Lucky again, from a certain perspective. Not married, no kids, so I can be spectacularly selfish. Closest thing I have to that kind of responsibility is dogs and cats, and they’re pretty easy to deal with.
6) How do you get family and friends to respect the writing time and leave you be?
And lucky for a third time. Everyone in my circle is wonderfully respectful.
7) How do you ensure your health is a priority?
Yes, well, for a long time I didn’t, and now I’m dealing with the consequences. My health stuff is an ongoing tedious saga that has serious repercussions for the work. Some of it isn’t my fault — 12 years of chronic fatigue syndrome, a permanently weakened immune system, and more than a year with a persistent chronic sinus infection, a thyroid that fell over, and a host of bronchial issues have made life challenging. Still, I’ve managed to work around them. What is self-inflicted are the spinal issues due to stupidly allowing my posture to fall apart, allied with hours and hours and hours in front of the computer. I’m rectifying that now, but it’s not easy or cheap. It’s a tough lesson learned the hard way. Moral of the story?? Stay fit, and make sure you keep an eye on your posture.
8) What do you do to keep your ‘well of creativity’ stocked up?
I read history books, I travel, I watch documentary dvds, I work in my local theatre.
9) How do you cope with the days/weeks that you just don’t want to write?
It depends. If I’m honestly, genuinely exhausted, I stop. If it’s a case of my back brain trying to tell me I’ve gone wrong, I pause and let it work things out. If I’m feeling intimidated by the work and just being chicken, I give myself a kick up the arse and get back to the computer. Bottom line is, I’m not flying solo. I have a publishing partner who relies on me to keep my word. When all else fails, I imagine failing them and that puts things in perspective.
10) How do you fit other writer career commitments into your schedule so it doesn’t unduly affect the writing? Eg publicity, attending conventions
Notoriously, I don’t. At the risk of sounding like a clown, it really only dawned on me quite recently that I am in fact profoundly introverted. Accepting that fact has changed a few things for me. My publisher really wants me to be more proactive on that score, and I realise I do have to lift my game there. So now it’s just a matter of finding ways to do so that don’t leave me unable to function.
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?
My most recent change is slowing down. Between 2005 and last year I wrote 17 novels. There was a plan, I followed it, it worked out for me pretty much but now I have to slow down for the long haul. I also need to accept that I do have that 2 speed thing going on, and work with it instead of trying to fight it. I can’t rush through a first draft, knowing I can fix things later. I polish as I go to start with, until I feel bedded down with the story. After that I can speed up a bit, but I’m still polishing on the run. When my back brain tells me I’ve gone wrong I simply can’t keep writing until I’ve fixed it. I have tried, and it’s not my process.
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?
Yeah, do as I say, not as I did. *g* Seriously. Eat well. Get and/or stay fit. Find a good physio and/or chiropractor and have yourself checked on a regular basis. Be mindful, mindful, mindful, of your posture while working at a computer. And the minute you feel a physical niggle, get it sorted. Don’t pop painkillers and keep going. A little bit of ongoing maintenance is key. You ignore that at your peril.
Karen Miller is Vancouver born but has lived in Australia since she was small. She’s had a number of jobs, ranging from PR through teaching English and Business Communication at TAFE and owned her own sf/fantasy/mystery bookshop. When not not writing she’s heavily involved in the Castle Hill Players, my local community theatre group, as an actor, director, prompt, stage manager (but not all at once!) and publicity officer.
She’s had more than fifteen books published since 2005, ranging from epic fantasy through books in the Stargate and Star Wars universes to her lighter comedic fantasy. Karen is a Guest of Honour at Natcon 52 in Canberra next year.
You can read more habits and processes here: http://nicolermurphy.com/writers-habits-and-processes/