Frequently Asked Questions On Writing...
Question: How do you get started each day?
A few years ago I was lucky enough to be able to convert my kids' cubby into a writing studio. It sits nestled at the very back of the garden, so my writing day begins by making a pot of tea and heading up the winding path to my studio. Our garden is quite bushy and full of bird life - it is a wonderful way to leave all the daily jobs behind and get into my writing head space.
My studio is where all my ideas sit and wait for me. I never do any research or other work up there, it is just for creating. Before I had my studio, I had the kitchen table, or the cupboard, or the floor next to the bed. Wherever it was, I would go there each day to the same space. There is something about having a 'Creative Only' space that immediately gets me into story writing mode.
Question: Where do you find inspiration?
Everywhere! Newspapers, documentaries, TV shows, magazines, podcasts, songs, poems, books – even conversations that I eavesdrop in on. If I really need a good dose of writing inspiration though, I go back to my all time favourite books. They remind me what good writing can be.
Question: Do you have any tips for beating writer’s block?
I have never yet experienced a block in ideas. I have notebooks FULL of ideas - most of which will never see the light of day. But when I am starting a new project, I go back to these notebooks and see what grabs my attention. They might be things I have heard, newspaper articles, pictures or photos, ideas I have had just before falling asleep (these are either brilliant or terrible!), or just a snippet of a thought that has bugged me enough to write down.
I have however, had plotting blocks, where some part of the story just isn't working and I can't see a way through. Going for a walk helps me. It has to be somewhere where I don’t have to concentrate though – along a path, or around the oval at the park. Sometimes I lay out a labyrinth on the floor with rope and walk around that. More often than not, I am able to get into a kind of rhythm and the problem tends to resolve itself. Sometimes problems take longer to figure out, but that is okay too. If I am really stuck, I switch projects, maybe work on a picture book, or do some more research and let my brain tick over the problem without me getting in the way. Sometimes what a story really needs is space. Put it aside for a bit (this is REALLY hard to do), look for inspiration somewhere new. Watch a movie or a television series. Listen to a podcast. It is amazing how many problems I have solved this way. It may be a turn of phrase, or an image or a piece of dialogue that just syncs something in my brain, and suddenly I can see the way forward.
Question: What’s your best advice for new writers?
Write the story that only you can write. Write it for you. Imagine that no one else is ever going to read it, and indulge yourself. That is when you will find your real voice, and the book will sing because of it. Keep imagining! Keep writing! Keep reading! I find the best writing I do is when I write just for me. If I imagine someone else reading my words, the words become stilted and not at all like the voices in my head. They become what I think people want to read, rather than what I really want to write. Ignore audience. Ignore trends. Ignore teachers and friends. Write as though no one will ever read it, and if you need to throw it out at the end to make sure no one does, then do it! For me, this is the only way I can write honestly. If I am focused on my audience, or on trying to write a best selling masterpiece, it is impossible to listen to the story and the ideas and the characters. So instead I just write. A lot of it will be rubbish. But then there will be the small jewels. Take those and put the rest in an ‘extracts file’. Keep going, keep mining for jewels, keep ignoring all those other critical voices. If no one is going to read it anyway, what does it matter what you write? So write for the voices in your head, and the rest will follow. And at the end, when you have got as much as you can from the story, then you can decide whether to send it out into the world or not.
Question: Do you have any writing habits?
I never write the story in its narrative order. Usually I find I write the ending first, simply because this is the part of the story that comes to me first. I write snippets of conversations, or character’s thoughts, and these may never end up in the final version, or sometimes they are the best bits. I always carry a notebook and pen with me, because inspiration hits at the weirdest of times. Usually when my mind is on something totally unrelated…my advice is never to think that you will remember it later. You won’t. Write it down when it comes to you.
Question: Where do you like to write?
My studio is the most brilliant writing space. It is small and the walls are covered in cork so I can pin up ideas, notes, articles, photos and drawings all around the place and move them when I need to. I have a white board for when I’m brain storming, and book shelves filled with my favourite books, or books which are particularly relevant to what I am working on. It also has the distinctive smell of wood, and as soon as I open the door and smell the wood it immediately gets me into ‘writer mode’. And of course it has just enough room for the dogs to snuggle up at my feet…But having said that, I can, and do, write anywhere and everywhere. I carry a notebook or my phone with me always, because ideas will pop up in the strangest of places and at the most inconvenient times. Having something to write in saves you scrabbling through bins to find an old receipt...
Question: When do you write best?
When I am alone and free from distraction. It can be any time of day or night, and sometimes at night I come up with the best phrases or ideas just as I am falling asleep. I think my brain is free to really explore then. I’m not holding myself back or self editing. When you are drifting off to sleep you allow your imagination to go wherever it wants, and some of the ideas that have come at that moment have been really wonderful. Having said that, it is SO difficult to force yourself awake to write down the idea or conversation you just thought of…perhaps I should look at meditation…
Zana lives and works on the unceded, stolen lands of the Wurundjeri People and pays her respects to elders, past, present and emerging.
Always was, always will be, Aboriginal land.