An Interview with Donna Alward
I’ve said over and over that I want to learn how to write more productively. The best way to learn writing productivity is to talk with those writers who are far more productive than I. Therefore, I decided to interview a few of the most productive writers I know to learn how they get so much done. I’m sharing my interviews on the blog in case others are looking for help being productive as well.
New York Times bestselling author Donna Alward is my friend, my mentor and an absolute rock star goddess of a writer. Since I met her in 2009, she’s written nearly twenty (that’s 20!) titles – nearly double my output. (The number might even be more; to be honest, I lost count.) This figure includes two Single Title contemporary romances, the first of which, THE HOUSE ON BLACKBERRY HILL, debuts with St. Martin in April. By the time July roles around, she’ll have written at least three more novels. So when I started looking at productivity, I had to talk with her first.
1. How do you structure your writing day? Do you set a daily word count? Page count? Work hours?
Between 9 and 2:30-3 is WORK ONLY. Before 9 is getting everyone out of the house, and after 3 I put on my chauffeur/wife/maid hat. I figure a good writing day is anywhere between 2000 and 4000 words, so I try to hit that consistently. Clearly, 4000 is a VERY good day and 2000 is more on the “acceptable” side, with somewhere around 3000 being just about right. I have bad writing days, but usually the very good ones balance things out.
2. How do you balance the above with all the business end of writing? The promo, the websites, the social media. How do you balance home life/work life. You have teenagers. I know you don’t want to work all the time.
I think now that the kids are teens I run even more, though saying goodbye to one competitive sport this year has made a world of difference! I think by protecting my work hours – that 5 ½-6 hour block – I can then switch gears and keep my crap together. Most of the time. In the block between 7:30 and 8:30 a.m., I often deal with e-mail and whatever daily check ins I usually do (yeah, like Facebook. And twitter. What if someone said something about/to me while I was gone???). After 3, I run around and tidy up so it doesn’t look like a tornado blew through the house, do whatever running I need to do, get supper started. Any “work” I do after 3 p.m. is probably promo or marketing, social media, that sort of thing, because I’ve lost my “quiet” window for writing. Also, I usually take a single day at the beginning of the month to take care of a lot of the month’s admin – things like updating my site, accounts, writing and sending any guest blogs, that sort of thing. Then it doesn’t distract me during the rest of the month.
I don’t work at night unless absolutely necessary. Nor do I work on the weekends. That’s the time I hang with my family, let my brain recharge, do fun stuff like clean the toilets. In order to make all my word counts, I have to be pretty structured and I find using #1k1hr on twitter is a huge help! It’s a guarantee I’ll focus for an hour and add to my count. Then I’ll take a quick break – grab a coffee, lunch, throw in a load of laundry… By using those 15 min breaks to do a single chore, I find I keep the house from falling apart. And in a perfect world, all that keeps things fairly balanced.
3. What kind of negotiations did you have to make with your husband so he is supportive yet not feeling like you’re “writing all the time”. Was this even an issue?
Most of the time, it’s not so much of an issue. He works regular hours, so by the time he gets home I’m usually finished for the day. It gets dicey in the summer. I try to give myself a lighter schedule during July and August, because he teaches at the college level and is off for those months (and so are the kids. Happy Writer Donna likes silence). Not only are they a distraction (lovely, but distracting), I also want to play hooky and hang out and do fun stuff and enjoy the summer too! Because my schedule was so crazy last year, I negotiated by buying him a tractor. I’m not too proud for bribery. It’s a win win. He gets a tractor to putter on (and you should see his grin!) and I get some landscaping done. Of course, that means I have to write faster to pay for things like topsoil. LOL
4. Do you worry about burn out?
Oh yeah. Like this past Christmas. I figured I’d better work straight through, but I switched projects and found I just didn’t have anything left in the creative tank. Rather than fight through it, I enjoyed the holiday with the family. I think I napped during the first four days of the break. I don’t think I knew how badly I needed the downtime until I took it and let myself off the roller coaster. I’ve also planned holidays into next summer. I’m going to need those too. Sometimes burnout sneaks up on you. I’ve seen it happen to a lot of other writers and it’s happened to me once before. The good thing is, I know that if I take a break I’ll be fine. It’s really okay to give yourself permission to take a vacation.
In addition to being a New York Times bestseller, Donna was a 2011 RITA Finalist. She has two releases out in February, by the way. HER RESCUE RANCHER from Harlequin American Romance and the Volume 1 of the FIRST RESPONDERS Collection from Sanhaim Publishing.