Thanks so much to everyone who commented on, read and shared the first post in my series about balancing writing and motherhood, which was an interview with the fabulous Kate Forsyth. I was thrilled with the love everyone gave that post.
My next writing mum is Allison Tait, a freelance writer, blogger and author with more than 20 years’ experience. You might remember her hugely successful blog, Life in a Pink Fibro. Allison now blogs here, she’s still a prolific freelance writer and she’s just released the first book in her children’s trilogy, The Mapmaker Chronicles. Welcome Allison!
As I did last time, I recorded our interview on video so you can watch it below and I recommend you do because Allison has so many great tips. But I’ve also put together a summary of our chat. Happy watching or happy reading!
1. What does an average work week look like for Allison?
Allison generally works on at least one feature article for a magazine, website or corporate newsletter every week because that’s her main source of income. She says that to be a working writer you need to be able to take on a variety of tasks. This means she never gets bored because she’s always writing something different.
She also manages the social media activities for the Australian Writers’ Centre and she has her own busy blog about writing, life and books, which she updates once or twice a week.
As if that’s not enough, she’s finishing off the final draft of book three in The Mapmaker Chronicles. She’s written two full manuscripts for the series this year, as well as editing the first book, which was published last week. So now she also she has lots of publicity work to do with author talks and school visits.
Allison gets most of this done between nine and three every day when her children are at school, but she also works at nights, which she finds productive because the house is quiet and there are no interruptions. As much as possible, she tries not to work on weekends; she saves those for time with her family and new puppy!
2. How does Allison manage her working week?
Because the feature writing work is so deadline drive, Allison finds she works best by doing a bit of everything every day. Obviously, paid work with deadlines comes first and this will be her priority. But fiction writing is the thing that truly makes her happy so she tries to fit in a little every day.
Interestingly, Allison says she’s never found that blocking out several hours to work on writing her book has ever worked for her. She recognises that if she was to do that, she’d likely spend a lot of time procrastinating because the pressure isn’t there. Whereas, if she’s working on features projects that are deadline driven, she’s in a focussed mindset and is then able to apply this focus to the hour or so of fiction writing that she might squeeze in to her day.
If you can do 500 words a day, whenever you can squeeze them in, that’s a more efficient use of your time than trying to sit there for six hours.
I really loved what Alison had to say about dreaming time and it’s importance to the writing process too.
I do a lot of the dreaming time while I’m walking the dog, washing the dishes or weeding because it’s so repetitively dull I can’t help but think about what’s going to happen next in my book. That time is important in the writing process and you have to classify that as writing time.
3. Does Allison use a to-do list, planner or some other system?
Allison relies on her trusty Filofax to help her organise her life, which you can see in the video! She blocks out unavailable time first, time she has to spend teaching for the Australian Writers’ Centre and helping with reading groups at her local school, which are jobs that have to happen every week, no matter what. She writes it all down in her Filofax and she looks at it every morning so she knows what she has to do for the day.
And I thought this was a great idea of Allison’s. Every night before she goes to bed she sends herself an email with a list of the things that have to be done the next day. This way, her mind knows everything will be taken care of because it’s all written down and she can sleep without worrying about what she has to do the next day. Brilliant!
4. Has Allison changed her approach to balancing writing and motherhood over the years?
Allison points out that because she’s been working from home for a long time as a freelancer, she’s had to develop really good habits to ensure everything gets done i.e. no watching daytime TV!
Then, when she had children, she got very good at squeezing in whatever had to be done when the opportunity arose, for instance, when the baby was asleep. She also makes the point that while sometimes she might procrastinate in getting to her desk, once she’s there she doesn’t waste a minute and that she’s become very good at making the most of any available piece of time and using that for writing.
By focussing on what has to be done, she can get down 1200 words in an hour for a feature article and sometimes around 2000 words in an hour for fiction.
They might not be perfect words, but I’m okay with that, because at least they’re written down.
5. How does Allison make time for social media?
The mistake people make is trying to be everywhere. Find the stuff that you like to do.
For Allison, that’s Twitter, Facebook and her blog. She thinks blogging is fantastic for authors as you can make connections you might not otherwise be able to. Social media is an adjunct to her blog, not the focus of her online platform.
She used to blog daily until she realised how many words she was putting into her blog, words that she could be putting into her fiction writing. She’s cut back to once or twice a week and advises:
Find out what you like and put limits on yourself. You don’t have to be online 3 hours a day. If it’s taking you more than an hour to write a blog post, then don’t do it. Find something that takes less of your time.
And I loved this tip: Allison says that most of her blog posts take her about half an hour to write, including finding images and she’s happy to spend this amount of time on her blog – any more than that and it becomes intrusive upon her other commitments. So I guess the message is: make sure you spend most of your time on the kind of writing you want to be doing and find ways to focus your social media and make it more efficient.
6. Being a mum can be a blessing for writers, even though it limits our writing time. What are Allison’s thoughts?
Allison emphatically states that she would never have been able to write her new book series, The Mapmaker Chronicles, without having had her children; she would never have had the conversations that sparked the idea for the series. And writing the series has been the most fun she’s ever had writing anything. Her ten year old son is her harshest and most honest critic!
And Allison makes the great point that reading children’s stories aloud to her kids reminds her of how important story is and that sometimes as writers of fiction for adults, we can forget that.
I loved what Allison had to say about writing being neccessarily a selfish act because it involves sitting down alone at the computer, not engaging with other people, and that it can sometimes be hard to give ourselves permission to do that, especially when we’re starting out as writers; we have no guarantees that what we’re writing is ever going to see the light of day and we have to choose to spend the time doing it, away from our families, regardless.
Give yourself permission to do that, is Allison’s advice.
7. Allison’s final tips.
She says that if you want to write a book, start writing today. Give yourself some time somewhere in your day to write. Until Allison had book contracts for her series to fulfil, fiction writing had always been the last shift of the day for her, and she would often write into the night.
And, a tip we can all relate to: turn off the TV! Think of using television time as writing time.
You are never going to find the time to write, you have to make time. And you have to make the time within the day that you have.
Win a Copy of The Mapmaker Chronicles
I’m giving away a copy of Race to the End of the World, the first book in The Mapmaker Chronicles, Allison’s new series for upper-primary aged children.
In the video, Allison talks a little about her inspiration for the series. One night, when she was outside looking at the stars, her son asked her, ‘How far does space go?’ The next night, he asked her, ‘How did they map the world?’
Her response was that, unlike today when almost everything is known and we can find things out so easily via Google, back then you had to go and find out what the world looked like in order to map it and that those early explorers were worried they might fall off the edge of the earth, in the same way we might be unsure about where are the edges of space.
Right then, Allison had the idea for her book, about a race to map the world and about a boy who didn’t want to go. The book is a terrific adventure story and you can win a copy of it by leaving a comment below and letting us know which part of the interview resonated most with you. Which of Allison’s many tips about balancing writing and motherhood was the most useful? I look forward to seeing you in the comments!