Today we’re in a room chatting with writer Charlotte Wood about her book, The Writer’s Room – which has been described as “a rich and sympathetic resource for writers”. So Charlotte, can you tell us more about the book?
“It’s a collection of 12 long-form interviews with established Australian writers – novelists, memoirists, fantasy writers, literary fiction writers and others – about how they work.”
What kinds of things do you cover?
“The interviews explore things like routines, approaches to problems, what happens when they get stuck, craft issues like forming characters or discovering plot, and how to maintain narrative tension. As well, they delve into the deeper questions of why writers write – the nature of the fulfilment they gain from the process itself.”
Wow, it sounds like a well-rounded resource. So, why did you decide to write a book like this? Was there a lightbulb moment or did the idea evolve over time?
“In 2012 I read an insightful conversation between two painters, Steve Lopes and Euan Macleod, in Artist Profile magazine. I found myself wishing there was something like it for Australian writers. I had always loved The Paris Review’s ‘on writing’ interviews. As a young woman I’d devoured Candida Baker’s Yacker book series of the 1980s and early 90s, while Kate Grenville’s and Sue Woolfe’s Making Stories became my bible as a young writer. But a magazine would be something different – and besides, it had been more than two decades since a significant collection of long-form interviews with writers had appeared in our country. I realised that my mid-career novelist’s experience, together with my background in journalism, and the distribution now allowed by the internet, put me in an ideal position to create what I wanted.”
So it was a magazine first?
“In 2013, The Writer’s Room Interviews was born: a bimonthly digital magazine, each issue featuring a long Q&A with an established Australian author. The magazine went for three years. And then we decided to take a selection of the interviews and put them into a book. My hope is that in time we will be able to have a second volume.”
It really is fascinating to get an insight into writers’ lives. So, on that note, what about your own routine? What’s your typical day like?
“At the moment I am writer in residence at the Charles Perkins Centre at Sydney University, and I have an office there. So that means my routine begins at about 8.30am with the 20-minute walk from home to the office, which is a great start to a writing day – many of the writers in my book talk about the importance of walking for ‘oiling the cogs’ of the writing brain, and I find it very useful too. Then my practice when writing fiction is to stay at the desk until I’ve written 1000 words. Some of the other writers I interviewed wrote much more, and some quite a bit less, but many have a similar measure of a word-count goal to reach each day.
“If I’m not writing fiction – at the moment I’m writing the introductions to two books – I will stay at the desk as long as I’m feeling good progress is being made. I couldn’t take this approach with fiction because the feeling of progress is far too rare! I’d never get anything done.”
So how do those 1000 words come about?
“With the fiction, sometimes I get 800 words by 10am, and feel as if I’ll soon be allowed to leave the desk. But mostly I end up taking the rest of the day to write the other 200 … sometimes I will keep going and get to perhaps 1500 words by the end of the day. Often I just scrape it in by evening. And on bad days I don’t make it; I might get to around 750 or something.”
So it’s full-time write, write, write then.
“During the day I’ll take little breaks for fresh air or a quick walk, sometimes a nap and a break for reading something replenishing – but the main thing is that the work must be done. And in the first draft, quantity is everything – the quality of what I’m doing is irrelevant for a long, long time.”
So what is currently taking up those 1000 words a day?
“I’m working on a novel about ageing and friendship.”
Good luck with that. And for aspiring writers who hope to be writing full-time one day, what advice can you offer?
“Just start. Find just a corner of a subject that interests you, and follow it. Do writing classes, make good writing friends who will see you through the tough times, of which there are many. Don’t expect to make a decent living – probably ever – but do anticipate the joy and freedom that comes with living fully and thinking deeply.”