- That there’s no substitute for just doing the work of writing.
- Finding time to write while maintaining a demanding full-time job.
- Editing and the self-publishing process.
There’s no substitute for just doing.
Welcome to the thirteenth episode of Interviews from the Void, where I interview writers about their writing process, discussing the mechanics and physicality of the craft.
In this episode, I chat with YA fantasy writer Claire Luana about finding more time to write and growing her brand and writing business.
Arthur: Very recently, you quit a regular (and demanding, I should say) day job to write. One of the things I’m searching for in these interviews is how writers can make more time for writing and increase their productivity. When you had your full-time job, what was your writing schedule? Trying to do it all – write, work, and do normal life activities – were you ever completely exhausted? How did you push through and keep writing?
Claire: Thanks for having me on the blog, Arthur! When I first started writing, I would write on the bus on the way to and from work (about a 40 minute ride each way). That worked great (so long as I got a seat that day!) But, about a year into writing, my commute changed, so I needed to find a new solution. I’m a morning person and found that I absolutely couldn’t write worth a damn after a long day of work. The obvious solution was to write in the morning. So I started getting up an hour earlier (between 5-5:30) and writing. This was a great solution for me, and the only way I could make consistent progress. Still, I would get burned out sometimes and not want to write, especially on the weekends. I tried to give myself some grace and not force myself to push through. I found that I had the hardest time writing when I didn’t know where I was going with a particular chapter or scene, so often times abandoning it and spending a day or two brainstorming or thinking through what would come next was all that was needed to bring me back to the keyboard!
Arthur: Now that you’re working less – in the traditional sense – and writing more, what is your writing schedule?
Claire: Having a routine is pretty important for me. I work from home, so it would be easy to just laze around in my PJs and hang out with my dogs if I didn’t have daily goals set. I still get up early and write a chapter every morning. Then I spend the rest of the morning doing legal work (the job that currently pays the bills). The afternoons are for a few hours of editing, an hour or so of marketing, promotion, web site maintenance, blogging, plotting and launch planning (everything else). I also try to do at least 30 minutes of some sort of “author education” every day. There’s still so much for me to learn, so I want to push myself to keep reading craft books, or watching useful webinars, or reading articles on writing. I save that for the end of the day when I’m the most tired, because it doesn’t require a lot of brainpower.
Arthur: How do you balance self-promotion, writing, twittering, reading, and all the other activities associated with being a writer?
Claire: Believe it or not, I find it easier (at least less mentally taxing) for me to work on marketing/promotion/social media. Some authors hate it, but I think it would be easy for me to skip out on the mentally taxing job of actually writing to just check my Amazon ads or write blog posts. So for me, writing comes first. Editing second. Only when I’ve finished my writing and editing for the day do I spend time working on all the rest. At this stage in my career, having more products to sell is my top priority. So that means writing more!
I realized that if I could do anything in the world, I would want to be an author.
Arthur: You have a great layout and setup for your website. Tell me more about how you manage it. Do you run your website yourself, or do you hire someone for that? How do you create your images associated with your blog posts?
Claire: Thank you! Miraculously, and through much aggravation and praying to the tech gods, I run my website myself. I have a self-hosted wordpress site, and I splurged to buy the Divi theme, which has drop and drag editing which makes changing the site MUCH easier. For images, I like to use Pixabay to find free images, and then adjust them or add text using Canva. I do pay for the Adobe Creative Cloud license, which gives me access to Photoshop. I suck at photoshop, but I am slowly improving! There, you know all my secrets!
Arthur: How did you start writing? How did you grow into it and learn the craft?
Claire: I wrote a lot as a kid and teenager. Then, like a lot of us do, I completely forgot about that and jumped onto my perceived path to success in the ‘real world,’ which for me was law school and becoming a lawyer. I still read voraciously – mostly fantasy, which has always been my genre of choice. It was on my honeymoon, swinging in a hammock in Australia, that I realized that if I could do anything in the world, I would want to be an author. I decided to go for it at that point! I took a ton of classes, read a bunch of craft books, and just went for it, writing “Moonburner,” my first book. There’s no substitute for just doing.
Arthur: My presumption is that – knowing nothing about the profession – lawyers right a lot to prepare for their cases. Does your background as a lawyer have any influence on your writing style and voice?
Claire: Yes and no. I don’t think being a lawyer affects the substance or plot of my books too much. But perhaps the writing style. I worked in law school as an editor for a law review publication, which taught me a lot about the importance of word choice, grammar, and avoiding unnecessary wordiness. So I think those experiences do shape the type of writer I am – I am pretty ruthless in cutting unnecessary words, sentences, and scenes if they don’t need to be there. I think that makes my books tighter and more fast-paced, but I have had some readers complain that they move too fast. So, I think it’s a preference thing.
I am pretty ruthless in cutting unnecessary words, sentences, and scenes if they don’t need to be there.
Arthur: I’m a firm believer in all great books start with maps. Is your map in Moonburner inspired from anything? How did you come up with it?
Claire: I drew it myself, after the book was written. The first version of “Moonburner” didn’t actually have a map, but I think maps are really important, especially to a fantasy book. So when I got my rights back from my publisher and re-published, I wanted a map. I drew it based on my vision of how the world looked, then hired a designer on Fiverr to make it look really nice!
Arthur: I love the premise of the story in “Moonburner,” specifically the mechanics between the sun and moonburners. How much “world building” did you do prior to writing Moonburner?
Claire: Very little! Moonburner was my first book and I definitely “pantsed” the book. I totally built the world as I went. I wrote the first 6 or 7 chapters, and then sat back, and was like…now what? Haha! My process is a lot more front-loaded now, I try to plot and world-build a fair amount in advance.
Arthur: Was the idea for “Moonburner” in your mind for a long time before you wrote it? How did the idea come about and grow into an actual book?
Claire: Moonburner was inspired by China’s One-child policy, which encouraged a generation of Chinese parents to prefer boys over girls. I thought…what if a family didn’t want a girl because she had some sort of magic that wasn’t allowed? The idea of male and female magic-users being at war stemmed from that, and the main character having to hide who she was. I had the idea noodling around for a few months before I started writing.
I want to write books that I would love to read.
Arthur: What kind of experience are you hoping to create for your readers?
Claire: I want to write books that I would love to read. That’s pretty much my sole criteria. It has to have magic, adventure, and romance. I think I will always write a female lead, because I like reading about girls and women overcoming adversity and growing into their own awesomeness.
Arthur: How did you determine your target audience?
Claire: I honestly don’t give a lot of thought to my target audience, though it’s probably sacrilege to admit it! Me and my friends are basically my target audience. Career women who are a little burnt out by life and want a fun read to get lost in.
Arthur: Do you use Wattpad or Patreon to market yourself? What are your thoughts on these platforms?
Claire: I’ve tried Wattpad in the past, and I did not find it to be worthwhile for me. I have heard that writers of certain types of fiction (romance, contemporary, fan fic) do better on Wattpad, as well as those writers who are willing to put in A LOT of time engaging with other users to build a following. I don’t write in those genres and I didn’t have a ton of time to engage, so ultimately I cut my losses and cancelled my account. I am of the mind that everything is worth a try though, because you never know what might work for you!
I haven’t tried Patreon. I’d rather people buy my books and donate to their favorite charity.
I am of the mind that everything is worth a try though, because you never know what might work for you!
Arthur: I asked this question of Eric Lahti in Episode #7. Given your writing output, I’d like to ask you as well. There’s a podcast called A Writer’s Life, narrated by Dan Black. He talks about two kinds of writers: writers who write slow – perhaps by hand – and seek to get perfect words on the page the first time. Then, there are writers – like myself – who hammer out the words, trying to make sure their typing keeps up with the racing mind. Which kind of writer are you?
Claire: I’m a fast writer. It’s important to me to get it out there, and then fix it later. Books morph as you write them, so I don’t see the value in perfecting some scene I might have to cut later.
Arthur: Do you write with pen and paper, or on the computer?
Claire: Computer. I use the Scrivener software to write (it’s awesome!). I like outlining and plotting on paper though. I use post-it notes, so I can write a scene on each post-it and move it around and add in between.
Arthur: Do you outline or plan your stories before the actual writing happens?
Claire: I didn’t used to, but I do now. I am trying to condense the time from first draft to publication, and I think outlining saves you a lot of editing down the road. I try to know the general plot and character arc, and write about a sentence for each scene. I’ve found that’s about the right amount of detail to allow me to know where I’m going but also allow room for spontaneity and inspiration during the writing process.
Arthur: It’s been said by many writers that to write well, one must also read. Do you agree with this statement? What books and authors do you enjoy reading?
Claire: Yes! I think it’s important to read in your genre especially! It’s really important to meet reader expectations, and readers want something that’s familiar, but fresh. Reading helps you remember what those expectations are from the other perspective.