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Nicole Murphy & Elizabeth Dunk

Nicole Murphy & Elizabeth Dunk

A writer's habits - Trudi Canavan

9 Jul 2012

I was lucky enough to be introduced to Trudi Canavan by Donna Maree Hanson at the first Conflux convention, nearly ten years ago. Since then she’s become a good friend - one of the first people I go to with good or bad news and for career advice. Trudi’s the last of my ‘writers I want to be when I grow up’ and not just because of her phenomenal success - the easy style of her writing belies a dedication that few writers I know of have to the craft.

1) What is your writing schedule?

Well, the schedule I tell myself I have is this: mornings are for sorting out the non-writing part of being a writer - email, blog posts, accounting, interviews, etc. Then after a break for lunch I’ll do the writing part of being a writer, which means writing, rewriting, polishing, outlining, drawing maps, plans, characters, lists, etc. and doing research. How well I stick to this plan depends on how well my back and hands are. I’ve had chronic back pain for fifteen years and last year developed RSI, both common down sides to this job. But outlining, being disciplined, thinking things through before I put fingers to keys, and the simple fact that having ten books behind you means you’ve had a lot of practise, means my first drafts don’t need as much reworking as they used to. They’re not perfect, but I’m not as likely to need to redo large sections.

2) Do you set yourself word count aims or time limits to keep yourself on track? What are your aims/limits?

Some time during my last trilogy I unconsciously switched from making word count aims to making chapter aims. Every now and then I’ll stop to check that the word count is going to end up somewhere near what I told the publisher it would be, but most of the time I think ‘I need to get x number of chapters done in x number of weeks’ and then make that happen. Hopefully.

3) Do you work on more than one project at a time? If so, how do you organise it?

I’m very much a single project worker. It’s why I don’t write short stories often, and then usually only between books. I get immersed in the world I’m writing about, and have to force myself to imagine outside of it.

4) If you have paid employment apart from writing, how do you organise your time so you can write?

I write full time now. But back when I first started my illustration business so I could write part time I had a plan to write in the morning and illustrate in the afternoon, or visa versa. As it turned out the illustration jobs would usually be last moment ‘quick, call a freelancer’ ones, so I’d work long hours on that, recover, then spend the next few weeks writing until another job came in or I started to go quietly mad from worrying when the next job would come in.

5)  If you have family, how do you organise your time so you can write?

Paul and the cat probably don’t qualify as ‘family’.

6) How do you get family and friends to respect the writing time and leave you be?

I have a ‘don’t call me before 5pm’ rule, and any visiting has to happen before noon. Paul fields calls for me, and knows that when I’m staring at the writing computer he shouldn’t interrupt. Since I take regular breaks for my back and hands, he doesn’t have long to wait before he can talk to me anyway.

7) How do you ensure your health is a priority?

Pain is a great deterrent and warning to stop whatever I’m doing. And knowing that I don’t write at my best when I’m in pain or taking pain killers.

8) What do you do to keep your ‘well of creativity’ stocked up?

I’ve found that doing some other kind of creative activity boosts writing creativity. It’s as though creativity is a muscle, and the more you do the more you can do. It’s even better if the other creative activity I do relates to my writing, like drawing something from the story, making an object from that world, or learning a handcraft used by people in it.

9) How do you cope with the days/weeks that you just don’t want to write?

I just have to make myself do it. Most of the time all I need to force myself to do is start, and then it flows. Sometimes I really do need a break, or my mind is in a ‘left brain’ mode that I can’t kick. I don’t know if that’s the problem until I at least try to write. Then, once I know what the problem is, I’ll take the break I need or make use of the ‘left brain’ rut by doing something useful like organising my quarterly tax forms or going over my story outline.

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 try to schedule around publicity and conventions, allowing time before and after for preparation and, in the case of the scarier public speaking gigs, freak out time. It does cut into writing time so I tend to avoid commitments and arrange publicity blackouts when I know there’ll be a deadline looming.

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?

Aside from what I’ve mentioned above… well, I’ve finally worked out that exercise doesn’t work for me as it does many other authors. I envy those who go for an early morning walk or swim and come back brimming with ideas. My brain flat lines when I’m exercising, and if I do it in the morning I’ll be sleepy for the rest of the day. So I exercise in the afternoon once I’m done writing, or when I need to zone out and relax.

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 feel pain or heat, STOP. If rests, stretches and ergonomic products and setups don’t help, seek professional help from physiotherapists and/or hand therapists. Pushing on and ignoring the pain may lead to a permanent problem. And I don’t just mean pain, but permanent damage, like your hands not being able to grip things properly or scar tissue in your muscles. I’m also highly suspicious of writing marathons, where social pressure adds to your own inclination to ignore warning signs. Remember, it’s more important that you write a good book than a fast one.

Trudi Canavan lives in Melbourne, Australia. She has been making up stories about people and places that don’t exist for as long as she can remember. Her first short story, “Whispers of the Mist Children”, received an Aurealis Award for Best Fantasy Short Story in 1999. Soon after, her bestselling Black Magician Trilogy was published, and in 2010 was named an ‘Evergreen’ by The Bookseller. The Age of the Five trilogy followed, then a prequel and sequel to Black Magician Trilogy. The prequel, The Magician’s Apprentice won the Aurealis Award for Best Fantasy Novel in 2009.

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