March 22nd, 2016

Women's History Month - Wendy Orr

Wendy Orr is one of my favourite writers. Also a thoroughly nice person. Also the only author I know who has both Jodie Foster and Gerard Butler in the film of the book. Most of the rest of us tend to say "If my book were ever filmed..."

Her next novel is Dragonfly Song, which will be published by Allen & Unwin in 2016.

I first started writing in 1986, when my daughter started school and my son was in Year 2. I was working as a paediatric occupational therapist three and a half days a week, with an hour’s drive each way. And we had a sheep farm. I did not have a lot of spare time – but I was focussed, determined, and probably better organised than I’ve ever been, before or since. I didn’t let anything interrupt that day and a half of writing time. I used my drive to work out phrases in the books I was working on, saying them aloud to test for rhythm. And though I was scrupulous about not writing in my clinic, I did jot notes down in my work diary in some exceptionally irrelevant staff meetings. (I found one of those notes last year: ‘children playing in the dust, making a ring of flowers in a ring of stones.’ It belonged in the book I’ve just finished, as if it had just been quietly waiting all these years for me to find its story.)

I was quite prolific in those five years, but I’m not recommending this – superwomen acts aren’t sustainable. Not for me, anyway. I knew I was going to have to give a bit, somewhere, if I was to continue both working and writing. The choice was taken out of my hands by a speeding driver (and no, I wasn’t thinking about books at the time. I simply made the mistake of believing that a car on a side road, slowing down for the Give Way sign, would continue braking instead of accelerating into me at 140 kmph. My injuries were horrific, though at least I was able to use them in my YA novel Peeling the Onion). Amongst other gloomy prognoses, I was told I would never be fit enough to work again, and by default, became a full time writer.

A writer in too much pain to sit or concentrate for more than an hour or so a day is not prolific. We’ll skip the next fifteen years. But now, when I’ve defied most of the worst medical prognoses, go days at a time without pain, and truly am a full time writer, I should have it all sorted.

I don’t, of course, but I’m getting there. After years of being defensive about ‘Don’t invite me for coffee - writing is a full-time job,’ I’m making a conscious effort not to jump into the ‘I’m busier than you are’ game. It’s certainly true that writing is a full time job. I take it extremely seriously. But I’m at the age where friends are looking at retiring in the next five to ten years; I’m starting to think that if I intend to go on writing forever, I need a bit more balance of time for myself. So my latest goal is to consistently take weekends off. I used to take the weekends off from writing, unless I was pushing against a deadline, but used them to catch on admin – blogs, fan mail, website, tax etc… as well as the usual working woman’s weekend house and garden tasks.

The result was that I resented the admin tasks, did them badly or not at all, and did not truly have time off. My new plan is to schedule those things into the week. I’m not completely there yet: old habits die hard, and deadlines sometimes truly do have to be met. But now, the proof pages of my new book, Dragonfly Song, have gone back to my publisher for the last time, and I am determined to set these good practices in place and start the next book with a clean desk. Clean except for that day planner, meticulously – and realistically - filled in.

‘We’ll see,’ I can hear my family chortling. But life goes on evolving, and if creativity is a driving force in that life, it needs to be given the time and respect it deserves.