I’ve always been interested in learning how other writers work and what they do when they aren’t focusing on what’s happening on the page of their latest novel. Today it’s my pleasure to introduce AMRA PAJALIC, an award-winning author whose latest book is a short story collection, The Cuckoo’s Song.
I am constantly tweaking and updating my writing routine to fit in with my changing life. The first few years as a full-time high school teacher I squeezed my writing into the edge of my life, on weekends and school holidays, fighting to keep a foothold in my writing world as the demands of teaching pressed in on me. I used my writing group and sought mentorships to give me much-needed deadlines and accountability.
As I adapted to my teaching load I realised I needed my writing life to have a larger portion of my life. I needed to write every day to remain tethered to my work in progress and to have it flow quicker, so I began waking up at 5.30 am to write for an hour and a half before I had to get ready for work.
I write listening to music soundtracks that act like white noise, shutting of my editorial brain, as I immerse myself in a stream of consciousness state. Some days I woke up with no inspiration and would write song lyrics or diary entries, until my muse was nudged awake and the words flowed. Each day became easier with the novel unfurling before me. The only issue was that as a pantser I kept overwriting, my drafts extending longer and longer, to 140K that I then had to fight to trim down.
I discovered that I had to focus on getting a first draft complete before embarking on any edits. That when I hit the 20K mark the novel began writing itself, and that no matter how long I took to write a book, I would always return to the ending that I had first imagined.
Now I had to work on refining my structure and realised that when I hit the 20K mark I had to develop the rest of the novel so that I didn’t get caught up in overwriting. I experimented with various books on structure, Save the Cat, The Breakout Novel, and each one added to my toolbox. I now know to write a synopsis when I hit the 20K marks and to keep referring to that as I go.
I use Scrivener to write my work in progress and find it helps me with refining the structure as it is easy to move chapters around and have a synopsis of each. I love the feature to insert my research notes and websites I am using so that I can always go back and re-check facts. I use the Character sheets to insert images of my characters and develop their profiles, and Setting sheets to find photos of my settings and record notes about description. I also like colour coding sections that might be in different points of view or timelines to help me visualise the structure.
I am now working part time and have one day off to prioritise my writing and no longer need to have a rigid writing routine. When I am developing my first draft I write every day, at least 1000 words, and this can be in the morning or afternoon. When the draft is complete I seek feedback from my critique partner and refine it.
I am now also using a standing desk and move around the house to write around my household routine. With much needed time I don’t have to fight so hard to prioritise writing and find myself fitting in writing sessions multiple times a day. Each draft is getting quicker and my hope is that I can keep prioritising my writing life as I reduce my teaching life.
You can find Amra online at the following links:
Amra’s short story collection The Cuckoo’s Song features previously published and prize-winning stories. It features stories she has written over the past two decades and are the map that reveal her growth and evolution as an author. Delving into familiar themes of family dissolution, deprivation of war, tenderness of family and the heart-rending experiences of mental illness, Amra also moves into new territory with previously unpublished thriller stories.
Many stories are extracts of her previously published novels such as Suicide Watch which features her protagonist Sabiha in a scene cut from her award-winning debut novel The Good Daughter. Also included are previously published
stand-alone pieces that became her memoir Things Nobody Knows But Me, that was shortlisted for the 2020 National Biography Award.
You can buy the book here.