Melanie Heuiser Hill recently interviewed Linda Sue Park, curious about her daily work habits as a writer, and how Linda Sue balances life and work.
Do you have specific writing goals that you formulate and work toward—a certain number of words/pages a day, a draft finished by a certain date, revision done in x number of weeks etc.?
Yes. First, I write in scenes (as opposed to chapters), and my goal is to write 500 words per day of that particular scene. What I write can be and usually is absolutely awful—the aim is the quantity, not quality!
I begin my writing day by revising the previous day’s 500, which is actually the main task in terms of the time it takes me. I then finish by writing another 500 crappy words.
But I don’t have a long-term goal other than the daily one: a novel takes as long as it takes. This means that I prefer to write my books on spec, without a contract. Contracts stipulate deadlines! I’ve had to work with a deadline as well, for some of my books. I don’t mind a deadline for certain tasks like copyediting or proofreading, but I hate having one for a first draft.
Do these goals fluctuate or change for travel, family, holidays, life’s interruptions, etc?
When traveling for work, I try to get at least a little writing done, especially in airports or on flights. When I'm on vacation, I take a break from writing—vacations for me are usually a time to wallow gloriously in READING.
Like most writers, I’ve always managed writing in and around family time. That’s even more true now, because my husband and I are caregivers for our two (adorable and brilliant, of course) grandchildren.
You publish word counts and brief commentary on writing process on social media with the hashtags #amwriting and #amjuggling. Why do you put this out there publicly? Do you keep track of these writing word counts elsewhere, as well?
I began tweeting my word counts during a time when I was feeling particularly overwhelmed by daily life (see grandchildren, above), and finding it difficult to focus on writing. I thought that announcing my word count in public would make me feel accountable. It worked really well to motivate me.
To my surprise, I began to get responses from folks that my word counts and comments about juggling priorities were inspiring to them. So that was another reason to continue.
I don’t keep track of the word counts anywhere else, although I suppose some computer whiz could figure it out from the time and date stamps in the Word file?
How has the juggling of life and writing changed over your career? Is it harder or easier now?
Harder or easier, hmmm ... That would be a day-to-day answer. Two comments:
1) For me, it’s all about desire and discipline. I want to write so badly that I established the necessary discipline to do so. Some days, it’s harder than others. But the key is that I made writing a HABIT.
When something is a habit, it’s automatically built in to your day. Example: You don’t have to think about brushing your teeth, right? For me, writing is a habit in exactly the same way. It took me months, twenty years ago, when my kids were young and I was teaching full time, to establish that habit, but it was worth it. Now it’s not an “issue,” or a question of “finding the time.” It’s an automatic part of my day.
2) I sit with my laptop and type. I make up stories. I play with words. For a living. That makes me one of the luckiest people on the planet. I have to admit that inwardly, I snort and roll my eyes when folks talk about how HARD writing is. Compared to what many or most other people have to do all day long? Please.
Any chance you’d tell us a little about recent books and what you’re working on now?
I’m delighted to have several projects in the works. This month, in March, the third book of the Wing & Claw trilogy was published by HarperCollins. It’s called Beast of Stone and it’s the conclusion of the adventures of Raffa, Echo, and their friends. Also in March, Colby Sharp’s The Creativity Project was published, and I’m proud to have a contribution in that amazing book.
And I can hardly wait for May, for the publication of a YA collaborative historical-fiction novel titled Fatal Throne: The Wives of Henry VIII Tell All. Seven authors — one male, six female — each wrote from the points of view of the six queens and Henry himself. I had so much fun working with the other terrific authors and writing Catherine Howard’s chapter.
My current work-in-progress is another historical fiction novel that I’m hoping to finish in 2018. If you’d like to track my progress, I’m posting my word count on Twitter @LindaSuePark.
Thank you, Linda Sue, for taking time from your writing and traveling to share your thoughts.
Learn more about Linda Sue Park.
I love your comment about making writing a habit. You’re right, if we desire something enough, we can make time for it. Thank you for this glimpse into your writing life! I look forward to your next books!