Anthony Eaton is a multi-multi-award-winning children’s and YA author as well as being an Assistant Professor in Creative Writing and Literary Studies at the University of Canberra. He has written in backpacker hostels and on Antarctic icebreakers and is just getting the hang of an office. Here, we go inside his writing space, his schedule and the tools he uses to get the stories out of his head and onto the page.
Where did you write your latest book? How important to you is the space in which you write?
My last couple of books – Daywards (the final book in my Darklands trilogy) and The Hunter (my most recent book, not yet published) were written here in my office at the University of Canberra. I’m not really overly worried about where I write, as long as it’s a space where I have privacy, order, and near-to-total silence. I find that once I get into the flow of the story, I stop noticing the world around me anyway, and so my surroundings become a bit irrelevant. The downside of writing in my office at work is that people know where I am, so nowadays when I’m writing I tend to put up a polite sign on the door asking people not to knock, and I have to turn off my phone, iPad, landline, and e-mail. So that’s probably the most important thing for me about my writing space – isolation! (I’ve also been known to wear my noise cancelling earphones when writing at work, to cancel out any random noise or conversations happening in the hallway outside).
Do you transform your space in any way for each book? Do you ‘get into character’ at all?
Because my writing space is also my ‘regular’ work space (I’m a full-time teacher at the University, which means I’m often in meetings with students and colleagues) I need to keep it pretty tidy and efficient. This means I probably don’t spread out as much as I used to – in order to get things done I try to maintain a pretty strict organisational regime; little things like completely clearing my desk at the end of each day are how I manage to keep my life organised enough that I can fit in bits of writing time amidst everything else that I have on my plate. That said, when I’m working on a specific project, I usually keep the pin board above my desk free for any quick-reference visual materials that I might need. At the moment, for example, it’s covered in maps of New York City and photos of Coney Island which is where the opening chapters of my next book take place.
How has the place that you write evolved or changed since you first began writing novels?
I’ve written my novels in all kinds of weird and bizarre places; I wrote the first draft of my first novel in a backpacker’s hostel in Albany in WA and have worked in various places ever since. These have included an icebreaker halfway between Australia and Antarctica (Skyfall), a succession of Perth cafes (Nightpeople), the reading room of the National Library of Australia (Into White Silence), a guesthouse in the Glasshouse Mountains north of Brisbane (Nathan Nuttboard Hits The Beach) and, of course, in a succession of spare rooms in the various houses my wife and I have lived in. For some books I’ve had the whole thing mapped out on huge sheets of paper pinned around the walls of my room, with different coloured bits of string mapping the various plotlines, but nowadays I use a writing program called Scrivener which includes some pretty powerful planning and tracking tools, and so I can be a lot more portable. My office at UC is probably the most ‘stable’ writing space I’ve ever had access to, and so I guess I’m still in the process of evolving it to suit my writing needs.
Do you keep regular writing hours? If not, when do you write?
I do try to put aside 2 hours every morning (not including weekends) to do my writing. During this time I really shut myself off from the rest of the world, and get very tetchy if I get interrupted. Unfortunately, though, even though I always start the year fully intending to do the ‘2 hours per day’ routine, the reality is that I generally only maintain this for a few weeks before life gets in the way and I end up putting writing on the back burner while I get other things out of the way (this happens especially during the university semesters when I’m teaching. It’s one of the difficult things about juggling two jobs at the same time. Luckily, though, I love both of them!) As a result I generally end up ‘blocking out’ 3 or 4 weeks during my university breaks as writing time, and during these periods I get into a really intense writing mode where I might sit and work for anything up to 6 or 7 hours per day. The stuff I write in these periods is always really rough, and really fast, but at least it gets the story onto paper so that I can then start cleaning it up and turning it into something publishable. I do my best writing first thing in the morning, usually between about 0830 and 1130.
Do you have a morning ritual? Roald Dahl was said to sharpen pencils. What settles your mind for writing?
That’s easy – coffee! The first thing I do in the morning is turn on our coffee machine, and make myself a double-shot flat white. The other thing I’ve started doing of late is that when I get into my office I fire up my computer and voice recognition software (for the last few months I’ve been doing my writing using a cool program that allows me to simply walk up and down and talk into a headset, rather than being stuck behind a keyboard) and write what I think of as ‘random paragraphs’. Sometimes these are out-of-sequence fragments of whatever it is that I’m working on at the time (might be a book, might be an academic paper or essay, might be a blog post) and sometimes they are just completely random 200 or 300 word snippets of writing. What I like about them is that there is a sort of freedom that comes with them – random paragraphs don’t need to have any context, or even make any sense, and getting my head into that space is really useful when I then start working on whatever I’m focusing my attention on that morning.
Thanks Anthony, first author in The Writer’s Studio for 2012!