Interview with Author, Olivia Hawker (part 2)

TS. ‘Many years ago I began receiving INTERVIEWS with other authors, famous and not so famous. My goal, at the time, was to discover what processes other authors were using when writing. When I started posting these interviews I had no idea the range of methods I would discover. I wanted my interviews to be intimate; to uncover not only the author’s practices but to hopefully have the author share confidences with us. Olivia Hawker is one such author. Not in my wildest dreams would I have believed that the authors would be so generous with me and my readers.’

Q. Do you have any special rituals or quirks when you sit down to write? (a neat work space, sharpened #2 pencils, legal pad, cup of tea, glass of brandy, favorite pajamas, etc.)

OH. Oh my goodness, that’s a fraught question for me. I won’t tell you why. I’ll just primly state that yes, I do have special rituals for my writing.
Some of the rituals I’ll tell you about include making play lists that suit the mood of whichever book I’m working on. But I can’t listen to any music while I’m writing—that weird sound-processing issue again—so instead I listen before I sit down to write for the day. Sometimes I’ll go for a drive around the island listening to my playlist, and then head back home and go up into the loft and start writing before the day gets away from me.
Another ritual I’m comfortable sharing is to check in frequently with my instincts and then TRUST THEM. I take intentional pauses in my work to really deeply inquire of myself whether this piece feels like it’s headed in the right direction, whether it’s doing the job I want it to do and sharing the specific message I want to share with the world. And whenever I get the slightest idea that this aspect or that isn’t quite right, or when I feel like something needs to be added—even if I don’t know WHY just yet—I trust that instinct and I do what my gut dictates. I don’t use beta readers. In my opinion, they aren’t really necessary for any author—though beta readers certainly can help you learn how to improve your work faster than you might learn on your own, and that’s tremendously valuable. Betas can also teach you how to take a critique and how to apply criticism to your writing: Also an extremely valuable skill. But I’ve seen too many fellow authors get so hung up on their own insecurities that they can’t do anything without the approval of a beta or two. They become so dependent on external feedback that they never learn how to listen to internal feedback—and then, I believe, there’s a real danger of losing that author’s unique, individual voice. So that’s why I trust my gut, why listening to my instincts and trusting myself are actually parts of my writing rituals.

Q. Could you tell us something about yourself that we might not already know?

 OH.  I could tell you just about anything and it would be something people don’t know! I’m not a well-known author yet, though I’m successful in my profession.

 I’m comfortably mid-listing at the moment, about as far as you can get from being the kind of author about whom things are known.  But I’m very happy with that; it’s absolute bliss to get to write full-time and share my stories with the world. I suppose I can tell you that I really love spinning wool and weaving—it’s such a meditative hobby, great for chilling out—so fiber prep, spinning, and weaving usually sneak into my writing one way or another. I also love collecting antique pottery and china, and those are also things that tip-toe into many of my stories. I’m learning how to throw pottery on a wheel at present. I’m not very good at it yet!

Q. Do you have a set time each day (or night) to write?

OH. Most days, I write from about 7 – 11 am. Those are the hours when my brain seems to work best. But when I’m under a tight deadline, anything goes. I’ve pulled 14-hour days in the past. I don’t recommend it.

Q. What’s your best advice to other writers for overcoming procrastination?

View from my desk

OH. Stop procrastinating! Okay, serious answer: Remind yourself that your book isn’t going to write itself. It doesn’t do you any good to sit around dreaming up every single detail of your plot and all the action and every line of dialogue. You’ll forget most of what you dream up, anyway, unless you write it down, and if you’re going to write down notes, you might as well just write the damn story.

And the advice to interview your character or to make lengthy dossiers that include everything about your character’s past and present and future… Bah! It drives me nuts when I see people recommending such things to struggling writers. It won’t help, because most of what you cook up during exercises like these are irrelevant details that will have no bearing whatsoever on the actual story you’re trying to tell. You’re only wasting your time, and odds are good that you don’t have a lot of time to waste—you probably work a day job and/or have kids or other relatives to care for, or myriad other obligations. It’s hard to carve out time to write. Don’t squander it on something that won’t make you a better writer. Ultimately, at the end of all these various procrastinations, you’re still going to be looking at a blank screen. Fill the screen with words. Don’t be afraid of your own words. They’re yours; you’re in control. Usually writers stall this way because they know, either consciously or subconsciously, that what they’re going to write isn’t going to live up to the vision they have in their heads. Their stab at a scene or a chapter or an entire book is going to fall woefully short of what they’re picturing the final product will be. And whatever they produce will certainly not be as good as all the writing out there that they admire so much—the published works they’ve read, written by their favorite authors.
Well, of course your writing is going to suck! That’s fine! If you could see the unfinished works and the rough drafts your most-admired authors produce, you’d faint from shock; they’re terrible. The final products we see when we hold a print book in our hands, or when we open a favorite book on our e-readers or listen to a favorite audio book… those are FINAL products. They have been refined considerably by several rounds of edits with professional editors. There was probably also a whole swath of time where the author didn’t look at that book at all for weeks or months or years, and then came back to it with fresh eyes so they could see where to make improvements. I promise you, the first version is always awful… for everybody. And even if some other author’s first version of a manuscript is, like, ten thousand times better than what you can write at present, I guarantee you, that author looks at their first draft and says, “Yikes. Well… it’s good enough for now.”
My best-selling book so far, The Ragged Edge of Night, hit a couple of bestseller lists and was optioned for film and nominated for a few important awards and has been praised by many generous and lovely readers as a fine piece of writing. If you could have seen the first version I turned into my publisher…! The final two chapters were real pieces of poo, and I knew it. I actually included a little note to my acquisitions editor that said, “Listen, I know the last two chapters are just flat-out terrible. But at least you can see the broad strokes of how the story ends. We can fix those last two chapters in dev edits.”
So believe me, O Ye Procrastinating Writer, what you’re going to write is going to suck, and WELCOME… welcome to the brotherhood/sisterhood of Real Writers. Maybe you think Real Writers never struggle or doubt themselves, and definitely never say “Fudge it” and turn in total garbage. But we do all of those things, all the time. It’s okay that your work isn’t perfect yet. It’s okay that it might take a while and lots more practice for your work to get a little bit closer to perfect. The only way to start moving in that direction is to practice, so type one terrible sentence and then type another terrible sentence, and just keep going until the terrible recedes and you can start to see some good stuff emerging. It will emerge, if you put words on the screen. But it can’t emerge until you actually do the work and WRITE.

Q. You mentioned, in your bio, that your novels were inspired by ‘true stories from your family tree.’ Can you tell us about that?

Don’t miss Olivia’s answer in Part 3 of this insightful interview March 13th.
Read my review of “One for the Blackbird…”.

MY BLOG features INTERVIEWS with  best-selling AUTHORS!    December: Dervla McTiernan – January: David Poyer, March: Olivia Hawker, April: Dan Sofer 
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