Regina author ALISON LOHANS has published 26 books across the full spectrum of fiction for children and teens – from picture books to mature YA/new adult. Her 27th book, Caught in the Crossfire will be published by Pearson Australia.
Describe your workspace.
I have two work spaces, one active and one passive.
The passive one (with accidental self-portrait in the photo) is great for printing and when I need to see a larger screen – but that old HP is painfully slow and internet unreliable. (The chair is awesome, though.)
My active work space is right in the middle of everything (on my dining room table), with things I love looking at, as well as the jumble of other stuff. At the left is my daily word count tally sheet for the past couple of months, which has been invaluable in keeping me on track. I’m so fortunate to be in a couple of daily check-in situations, and my word tally sheet is always right there to refer to. On the right are the jumbled pages of a (sigh….) synopsis for one of my current works-in-progress. Need to eat? No problem, just slide this nifty Asus Zenbook up onto the jigsaw, so I can eat and refer to my manuscript, or eat and read, whatever…
Describe a typical workday.
I always open my work-in-progress files (along with email and Facebook) first thing each morning (after letting my two dogs out). This way, no matter how the day plays itself out, my WIP is always THERE, right in my face. I often spend the first chunk of a morning replying to emails and getting caught up with all the wonderful writing communities I’m in, on Facebook. (Seriously, they all help make me accountable – and one of these FB communities is worldwide, which gives me countless opportunities to “talk writing” with people everywhere – Canada, UK, US, Germany, Australia…at any time of day!) Then I’ll take a preliminary look at my WIP and see what I can do to move it along. The early work in the day usually involves layering in stuff (in the same chapter) that didn’t get put in the previous day. That sets the stage for pushing ahead. Some days my WIP wakes me up at ridiculous hours like 5 a.m., so on those days I’ll make a coffee and see what I can do about getting those busy ideas into my manuscript. If it’s not an early wake-up-call and it’s now 11 a.m. or so and the WIP’s not flowing easily yet, I’ll do research…or read related (fiction) books to help get the juices flowing. Early afternoon is usually errand time, or light garden work (which can spill into the later afternoon as well). Later evening hours are usually the perfect writing time for me, and I have a self-enforced rule that by 10 p.m. I MUST be writing. This often goes until midnight or so. If insomnia is being cruel, it’s often productive to get up at 1:30-2 a.m. and write just a little bit. I find it really useful for getting out mental kinks that might be keeping me awake…and then it’s always MUCH easier to get to sleep (ideally, to wake up between 8-9 a.m.)
One thing that’s been absolutely essential to moving forward lately has been setting a minimum daily word count quota. A friend in one of my groups set the bar at 100 words/day (she’s in another group where writers are required to produce 100 words/day, for 100 days – and if they miss 10 days, they’re evicted from the group). So, for July I set my minimum bar at 200 words/day and August, at 300. For September it will be 400. This is extremely useful because I know I HAVE TO meet my minimum daily quota. Sometimes I barely squeak past (and have missed a couple of days), but other days it more likely comes out at 400 words, 600 words, 800 words, a thousand, 1300, etc.
List three of your most favourite things in your workspace and why they are meaningful.
1. The kitten/garden puzzle is one I bought in York, England in February of this year, and I loved it so much I can’t bear to take it apart. It definitely “brings me joy” 🙂 There’s another new jigsaw from The Cat Gallery in York, which I have yet to put together…more significant perhaps because it’s of kittens in a writer’s office (complete with typewriter, glasses, teacup, books, and a lovely rural view out the window). BUT…I love the present puzzle so much (completed in March) that I’m not ready to put it away yet. I love doing jigsaw puzzles because they evoke different, restful thinking patterns involving shapes and colours – a “wee break” from the demand of words which need to be linear (but often don’t come out that way).
2. On the bottom left-hand (black) kitty in the puzzle is a little token purchased at a writing retreat this year. On the back it says, “Just breathe” …an important reminder.
3. Not visible in the photo are the eight varied houseplants at the window-end of my dining room table (five on the table and three not). I love their green presence. They are alive, and with me in quiet, nurturing ways (unlike my dogs, Sebastian & Bailey, who are great company, but rather more excitable than my plants 🙂 …)
What do you listen to while you work?
These days I don’t put on any music while I’m working. Once I stopped listening while working, I found that I had “much more time and space” (mentally) to be “in” my work. There’s a lovely ongoing home-based audio, however. Right now my four finches are chattering away in their cage – other cheery life forms in my home – and one of my dogs is snoring 🙂
During earlier years when I was working on YA novels in which music played a central role, I did a lot of listening. For Don’t Think Twice, I immersed myself in 1960s rock, which figures prominently (and for which I had to find ways of paraphrasing bits of lyrics so I wouldn’t be violating copyright). When I was working on Foghorn Passage, I listened to the Beethoven violin concerto….over and over and OVER again – because it’s central to that novel.
If I were listening actively right now for one of my WIPs, it would be the Elgar cello concerto. But…since I’ve studied/played that concerto over many years, and performed two movements of it in three different recitals, I know it well enough to simply “turn it on in my head” to “listen”, or “look at the score” without needing to physically see it, when I most need it fictionally.
What is your drink and/or snack of choice while you’re working?
In the morning – coffee & multi-grain crackers.
In the afternoon – tea, multi-grain crackers (sometimes with cheese slices), trail mix, dried fruit, rice cake with peanut butter (& topped with raisins/nuts, banana slices), cookies that live on top of the fridge (and one day when things were going really badly, a whole bunch of cookies disappeared). If there happen to be chips in my cupboard, this is when they’ll get eaten…
Evenings/night – whole grain crackers (sometimes with cheese), trail mix, etc.
How do you develop your story ideas? Do you use an outline, let the muse lead you, or another technique?
I’m a dyed-in-the-wool pantser, and my ideas come from all over the place. I never outline (unless forced to), and absolutely dread synopses (which are demanded by some publishers – eek!!) Part of my mental process “lives in the story”, so the story can be developing pretty well at any time, no matter what I’m doing. There’ve been a few occasions when I was totally stuck, sitting there at the keyboard utterly clueless. BUT…if I forced my fingers to start typing, once in a while “my fingers led me” into important things for the story, things I’d had no idea about. (And it was extremely gratifying to find out that this also works for a NY Times bestselling author friend, who has over 100 books to her credit!)
If you were forced to share your workspace but could share it with anyone of your choosing, who would it be?
I’ve lived alone 10 years now and can’t imagine sharing with anybody. The company I’ve had has always sat here at my dining room table, helping with the jigsaw-of-the-moment, chatting, and sometimes eating. If I absolutely had to share this table with someone else for work purposes, I’d be okay with my son Chris sitting opposite me – he’s quiet, and well organized.
What is the best piece of writing advice you’ve heard or received?
KEEP GOING! Don’t expect perfection the first time around – we have to give ourselves permission to write that sloppy copy. I recently saw a terrific inspirational quote to the effect of: “A first draft is always perfect. All a first draft has to do is exist.” Write for that “inner you”, and not for anyone else.
Thanks to Jennifer Chambliss Bertman for the use of her Creative Spaces interview questions.