This is a weekly series of guest posts on How Writers Work.
Australian children’s author Claire Saxby talks about her writing process.
How did you get your first book published?
The first writing class I did was Short Story. Easiest way to start I figured. Hah! Of course, to anyone who knows, short stories are a challenging form and certainly not a place for beginners. Or for this beginner anyway. I did some more classes but after doing Writing for Children, I stopped studying and started writing. One of the last things we did in the Writing for Children class was approach publishers to see what they were looking for. Barrie Publishing was packaging, amongst other things, a literacy series for Macmillan. I submitted a 5000-word story ‘Banana Beard and the Bowler-Buddy’ that had been rejected (form letter) by two other education publishers. It was subbed in February 1999, accepted in April and published in February 2000. I had no involvement with the text once it was submitted and the next time I saw it, it was in book form (almost as submitted), my six author copies arriving unannounced in my letter box. I was so exicited, but my husband was still at work and my children were with my parents on the other side of town. I drove across town, for once not at all bothered by peak hour traffic. I was fit to burst and had to restrain myself from flashing the cover at every set of traffic lights. Only once I reached my parents’ house did I jump and dance with them and my children (okay, I and my children danced. My parents shared my excitement in a slightly more restrained manner).
Your writing routine
I am a full time writer, although I do other short-term regular-pay jobs occasionally. I visit schools and libraries, bookshops and anywhere else where books get a look in. I have a house full of young adults (and one final almost-adult) and a dog. I write every day, even when it’s a snatched minute or two. I will generally have more than one project going at a time. One will be in concept form, when the time is spent finding the story’s shape and direction. That might mean reading books or on line resources or researching in libraries. Or it might mean freewriting/brainstorming to bring the story into focus. At the same time I might be redrafting another story and also working on edits from a publisher. I also review books for Aussiereviews, an online review website run by Sally Murphy. I find that reading other current work and having to write a review is like a warm-up exercise and I often do one or two reviews at the beginning of a writing session as a way to get myself in the right headspace. Poetry can sometimes work like that too. My desktop is littered with poems in various stages of development. I don’t write much after dinner, although I will edit or tweak work then. I like taking photos and editing them online is also good preparation for writing. My writing process varies. For picture books, I really like to get their shape early, which means writing a complete draft in a sitting, even if it’s absolute rubbish. If the shape is right, then I can then come back and write in small bursts. Without that first draft, I quickly lose interest in the idea. For a recent novel, I abandoned the planning that had preceded the previous two bottom drawer novels, and set myself a daily word target with no editing. Then when I was finished, I started all over again, not editing the previous draft but just writing a new one. Another novel I’m working on at present is coming in scenes, not at all sequentially. I’ve tried to start at the start, but it won’t work. I’m hoping that eventually I’ll have enough scenes to see its shape. Nonfiction is a whole other ballgame. I love the research element and like others, struggle to contain it. But I have to immerse myself in the subject and let it ferment before the writing can begin.
Your writing space
My current writing space is temporary as our family expands and my office is needed as a bedroom (no not a new baby, but my young adult niece). In the way of these things, there is no clear indication of when this will change. Until it does, my office is now part of our bedroom. It works, even if the view is less stimulating and the space less expansive. Really, as long as the computer is accessible, I’m able to work. It’s tres messy and perhaps would be better to remain anonymous!
Your latest book or WIP
My most recent book is There Was an Old Sailor a picture book for young children. It’s a nautical take on an old rhyme with gorgeous illustrations by Cassandra Allen.
My next book will be released at the start of April this year. Freaky Fact or Fiction: Human Body (Hinkler Books, for 8-10 yo readers) is the first book I’ve done that combines my health background with writing. It’s a collection of weird and wonderful information about the human body. Readers have to work out what’s fact, and what’s fiction. It was great fun to write. I also have a new picture book due out towards the end of this year. Carrum Sailing Club is for preschool children, illustrated by Christina Booth (and the images I’ve seen are awesome) and published by Windy Hollow Books. Several other projects are currently occupying my brain and my desk, but they’re not quite ready for public viewing.