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Writing a Novel While Working Full-Time

In Books, Career, Crime & Mystery Writer, Freelance, Writing on February 23, 2012 at 12:07 pm

I wrote my crime novel during the Tasmanian winter of 2011. I wrote it while working full-time in advertising and running a successful freelance business, and managing a high-energy home life…

I have always gotten more done when I am at my busiest. To write a novel in 3 months, I wrote 1000+ words a day.

What I know now, about writing a novel while working full-time, is that you must let go of two preconceived (and false) writing concepts…

1. There is a perfect place for writing

Nope: there is no such thing.

If you wait for the perfect place to write, it won’t ever happen. I’ve fallen into this trap before. When I was younger and single and uncommitted, I wanted the cliched writer’s desk, study and all the trappings that go with it. Now that my life is – and looks like it will always be – perpetually chaotic and crazy, I know better.

Now, all I absolutely require is an uncluttered work area.

Generally, I work on my laptop in our study – or while sitting on my bed. Or on the couch. Or the kitchen table. For easy transportation, I also pasted my entire novel (in A4 sheets) into a scrapbook, which I’d take out into the park at lunchtime to work on. I’d also work on it while on the bus to and from work.

Occasionally, when I have been granted precious solo time, I have worked at my shack on Bruny Island. I don’t necessarily get lots more done there, but I’m grateful for the inspirational environment and the chance to totally immerse myself in my book.

2. There is a perfect time for writing

Nope: there is no such thing.

Writing is like anything else in life – you either choose to make it a priority, or you don’t. Simple.

When you work full-time and have a family, life is a non-stop juggling act. It’s easy to put yourself and your writing dreams last. I know this only too well.

But, if you passively wait for the perfect time to ‘be a writer’, something else is guaranteed to sabotage your intent.

So, then – and now – I have had to make choices:

Do I relax during my weekday lunch hours… or do I work on my book?

Do I lie in on weekends… or do I work on my book?

Do I watch something on TV… or do I work on my book?

Do I read a magazine on the bus to work… or do I work on my book?

You get the picture.

There is no magic formula

Writing a novel while managing the demands of a career and a family comes down to discipline, drive and lots of little decisions (that really add up).

Even when I didn’t feel like writing, I would still do it.

Even now, I have to work hard to continue to make writing a priority. It is somewhat exhausting. But I have committed to giving my writing the respect it deserves. And I keep my eye on the prize.

Crafting a Creative Tasmanian Life

In Career, Freelance, Island Life, Minimalism, Tasmania on February 14, 2012 at 11:28 am

How to succeed as a creative in Tasmania? Get creative with how you present your message…

Recently, I worked on a story for House & Garden, featuring some good mates – Nick and Kerry – who’ve moved to Tasmania to renovate a minimalist-in-a-cool-Danish-way, 1960s weatherboard cottage. They love their food, so I love them.

They also live in a totally out-of-the-way place: in the beautiful, sleepy village of Middleton. Yet their careers are not suffering. Quite the opposite, in fact.

Nick’s a sought-after blacksmith and Kerry’s a talented creative director, and they both enjoy an amazing country lifestyle while maintaining their impressive creative careers. Kerry divides her time between their farm and Melbourne’s CBD for work, and Nick spends his days in his forge (on their 23-acre property on the banks of the D’Entrecasteaux).

They’ve also launched a blog, The Tassie Menagerie, which documents life on the farm, and how they juggle creative pursuits with herding ducks…

While their current arrangement seems idyllic to most, they are aiming even higher. Their goal is to live sustainably and independently – not just in terms of producing their own food, but also in working where and how they choose.

They say their move to Tasmania has enhanced their creativity – has given them a real point of difference in their work (which their clients are noticing).

To me, they are an example of how you can have your Tasmanian lifestyle while not compromising on the quality of your creativity. How you can use Tasmania as your USP (unique selling point).

To do the same, you have to:

1. Be flexible in how you deliver your message and product (think laterally);

2. Make sure you’re visible online (blog, website, guest posts…); and

3. Keep speaking to your audience as if they are global (not just local).

Too many freelance or independent creatives in Tasmania make the mistake of thinking and acting insular, of feeling they can’t compete with interstate and international creatives.

Clearly that’s not true – and it always pays to check out what other successful creatives are achieving. Be inspired and informed.

(Pics by Kerry and Nick, of their farm and forge)

So, You’re a Writer and You Want to Move to Tasmania?

In Career, Freelance, Island Life, Tasmania, Writing on February 10, 2012 at 11:06 am

Longing for a Tasmanian seachange, treechange or farmchange (for those agrarian types)? Ah yes, the dreamy life of the Tasmanian writer, tapping away at a laptop in a cool little café on the docks, or on their deck under the eucalypts and the big island sky, free from the stresses of the modern world…

I understand this picture: I almost live this reality every day, and I still dream of it.

There’s no doubt that Tasmania tempts creatives with an enviable and affordable lifestyle, inspiring landscapes, some of Australia’s best produce, the world’s cleanest air and water, and a strong artistic community. We grow and nourish some of the world’s best writers. It’s also a wonderful place to have a family…


It is also challenging place to be a writer (whether for love or money). It is not impossible to be a successful writer in Tasmania, but my experience has shown it to be a very different kettle of Devils to what working as a writer in Sydney is like.

If you’re keen, here are a couple of things you’ll need to think long and hard about.

Where to live

If you need beach, peace, coast, bush, space and solitude, you’re spoilt for choice. Raging nightlife and up-to-the-minute trends – hmm, not so much…

Of course, whatever your taste, I can’t tell you where you should live. I will happily recommend certain areas (and unrecommend others), because I know this island pretty bloody well.

However, there is one unifying fact: Tasmania does not yet have the internet capabilities of the ‘mainland’. And the places that writers generally love most – out-of-the-way havens – are the least covered by the web.

We will presumably eventually catch up with everyone else, but there’s no getting away from the fact that, although I live 10km and 10 minutes from the capital of Hobart, my broadband connection drops out on a regular basis. I had to swap phone carriers when I first moved, as the service was so sketchy I couldn’t carry on professional phone calls.

In another example, I’d pack my bags tomorrow and move to one of our family shacks, but there’s no WiFi at either… and oh, how I love WiFi!

How to work

Since moving to Tasmania, I’ve had to reassess my work style. The way I move between jobs. The way I (yuk) network. The way I charge for my work and chase payment.

In Sydney, I was spoilt for choice in where I worked and what I did – so many magazines, newspapers, book publishing houses, websites, PR companies… should I be a columnist this year, or a book editor???

Tasmania has three ‘newspapers’ (I hesitate to call them that), a couple of indie book publishers, and about three magazines (only one of which I would recommend).

Work for any of these, and you will get paid a fraction of what you receive elsewhere. Which is fine if you’ve downsized your lifestyle and you’re not fussed about money – but a bit of a slap in the face if you’re an established professional and expect to be paid as such.

(Try not to make the same mistake I made on moving here, which was to get myself into a situation of having to work so hard, that I couldn’t enjoy the lifestyle that Tasmania should have offered me.)

It’s also unfortunate to have to say this, but certain individuals and businesses in Tasmania suffer from a debilitating chip on the shoulder. There’s an inverse snobbery directed towards outsiders; it didn’t matter that I’d grown up here – the fact I lived and worked in Sydney meant that I wasn’t one of ‘them’.

The usual methods of breaking through barriers don’t work here – and I might as well have not had a CV at all, so irrelevant was my mainland work – and it’s taken three years to crack the tough nut of Tasmania.

How to succeed

My advice – to begin with – is to maintain your big town connections and, as far as possible, continue to get work from those sources. Perhaps position yourself as an expert in a niche area (moving to Tasmania???)… I would also advise getting a regular gig/s that bring in regular money (for example, editing for academic purposes).

Although I currently receive a full-time income as an advertising copywriter in a very cool Tasmanian agency, I also run a freelance business consulting for Tassie clients, and I take on regular editing and writing work for national magazines (such as House & Garden), book publishers (Murdoch Books and HarperCollins, for example) and local newspapers (a weekly column on houses and interiors for The Mercury).

All of this, of course, is quite draining.

Which is why, if you want to move to Tasmania, I’d suggest thinking laterally about your writing career (which you should always be doing, anyway). Don’t stop looking at ways you can work smarter, not harder. Be open to things – and you can turn your move to the twigs into new opportunities.


This year, I am finding ways to not have to be physically present with clients in order to pass on my knowledge/advice to them.

This year, I am finding ways I don’t have to be restricted to earning by the word, the hour or the job.

This year, I am finding ways in which my work no longer has such a short shelf life, and can be more sustainable.

If I’m living in Tasmania, I want to make darn sure I can enjoy the lifestyle, while  not compromising on my ambition.

Dream Jobs vs Reality Jobs

In Books, Career, Crime & Mystery Writer, Freelance, Travel, Writing on February 3, 2012 at 5:19 pm

Dream Jobs* (in no particular order)

  • Tintin (aka international photojournalist and detective)
  • Novelist
  • Small museum manager
  • Environmental/urban planner
  • Criminologist
  • Judge
  • Dancer
  • Anthropologist
  • Archaeologist
  • Landscape architect
  • Art and literary critic
  • Curator
  • Private investigator
  • Spy
  • Artist
  • Criminal mastermind
  • Fat controller

*I must make the note that I am blessed to have a career – as a writer – that has allowed me, at one time or another, to dip into many of the above careers (plus many more). I can think of only one other career path that allows you to do that: acting.

Reality Jobs (in order)

  • Receptionist (for my Mum in school holidays)
  • Body Shop Christmas-present wrapper
  • Barista
  • Server (and secret eater) of ice-cream at Haagen Dazs – opposite Windsor Castle
  • Artist’s model
  • Dancer
  • Arts events and book publicist
  • Journalist: production manager/sub-editor
  • Journalist: features writer (CLEO)
  • Freelance: writer, editor, project manager, stylist
  • Repeat the previous two for a couple for years
  • Newspaper columnist (Sydney Morning Herald)
  • Travel and food writer (Gourmet Traveller)
  • Freelance again (I think!)
  • Book editor (Random House)
  • Lifestyle Director (OK! Magazine)
  • Communications and Media Manager
  • Full-time ad agency copywriter, a la Mad Men… and freelance consultant and entrepreneur (MADE Tasmania)

The 5 Things that Matter Most

In Career, Freelance, Island Life, Minimalism, Tasmania, Writing on February 3, 2012 at 1:35 pm

My days have always been filled from end to end. I love being busy, and I am more productive when I have a lot on. Until recently, however, there were a lot of things in those days that frustrated me, didn’t satisfy me, and made me feel stressed. Things like:

  • committee meetings
  • an overloaded to-do list
  • freelance jobs that didn’t reward me enough for the time/creative energy invested
  • the feeling I had to reply to every single one of millions of emails in my inbox

Managing them meant I was losing valuable time for no gain – I was doing things through obligation not passion – and it took me a while to work out what was going on (obviously, because I’d been too busy to stop and think).

I only realised that I was giving away my time too cheaply during a 10-day holiday I took to paint my living room black and white. Spending every day doing nothing but sanding, plastering and painting was very zen, and although I didn’t plan on thinking about my life, and what matters most to me, it happened anyway.

I have spent the past 6 months thinking about what matters most to me, and got it down to a very minimalist top 5.

The 5 things that matter most to me:

  1. Eating homemade meals with my family
  2. Writing
  3. Reading
  4. Running by the ocean
  5. Living in Tasmania

I make sure those 5 things come first every day. (It’s almost like a muscle you need to keep using so it doesn’t waste away.) Pay yourself with your time first.

I’m not perfect at this. And, of course, there are many things I want to do, and many things that interest me – going back to uni or starting tango lessons, for example – but I’ve had to let go of the urge to do them all right now. At the moment, anything that’s not in that top 5 are just distractions from my main goal: learning to focus on what really matters most.


How to Edit Your Book

In Books, Career, Crime & Mystery Writer, Freelance, Writing on February 1, 2012 at 10:55 am

It’s D-Day. Today’s the day I start editing the first draft of my crime novel. I had a nightmare last night that involved packs of Tasmanian Devils attacking me in a dark garden. Coincidence? I think not.

After having done nothing but the prologue of my novel for years, I wrote my 70,000-word novel in winter 2011 – in 3 months, while working full-time and managing a freelance business and a family.

I make these points (which I will turn into posts at some date) because they mean that, while I got a novel written quickly, it’s in a state you’d expect of something written in a flurry.

It will need countless revisions, but this first thorough edit will be mammoth.

I’ve worked as a magazine and book editor for about 15 years. So, therefore it follows that it will be near-impossible for me to edit my own book. Sort of in the same way that chefs don’t like going home to cook for their family…

But, as I plan to self-publish, I am committed to doing this thing. All I can do is approach my book in the same way I approach a stranger’s manuscript.

The 7 Stages of Editing

  1. I read the entire manuscript in one go – straight through, without stopping or worrying about obvious errors.
  2. I start structural editing – onscreen, in Word or InDesign if it’s an illustrated book – tracking my changes as I go. I love, love, love structural editing.
  3. After the structural editing, I do a copy edit (for grammar etc) – all the way through, making a Style Sheet as I go.
  4. I do another structural check, and cut the clutter (unnecessary words and sections), as well as make a note of anything that needs to be padded out. I know the book pretty darn well at this point, and I find this stage easy, and exciting.
  5. I do another copy edit, making sure I’ve adhered to the publisher’s specific requests.
  6. I do another full read through, ignoring minor errors, to make sure the story makes logical sense (I remember one crime novel I edited, where a murderer killed the victim on a Sunday, when it turned out later that the victim was still alive on the following Monday… Actually, that author mistake is not such a bad idea for a book…).
  7. Final tidy up – a proofread – and it’s off to the author and publisher.

I spend a while on stage 4, especially as I need to liaise with the author on what I recommend be removed, and also what I need from them.

Of course, every book is different and I don’t necessarily follow this exact recipe with each – an illustrated book, for example, often requires work on the appearance and the typesetting, and the writing of captions; I also do a lot of ghostwriting for authors at the editing stage – but it’s my tried-and-tested method for most of the author books I am privileged enough to work on (I get paid to read books!).

Hopefully it’s a method that will work with my book.

3 Things Every Writer Must Say

In Career, Freelance, Writing on January 31, 2012 at 10:26 am

There are a squillion words written on how to be a writer, and how to get published. But the truth is scarily simple – which is why most people don’t realise what it is…

This advice from the incredibly successful Sandra Reynolds (blogger turned cookbook writer) is priceless – whether you want to blog or write a novel.

Sandra says of her success (I’ve bolded the 3 unforgettable things you must communicate):

“I simply wrote about what I knew. As it turned out, the single best thing I ever did was simply being honest with my readers.

This is who I am.

These are my circumstances.

This is what I know.

Any good writer will tell you that every good story starts with those three pillars.”

Thanks to my colleague and friend Allison Tait at Life in a Pink Fibro, for the interview with Sandra on ‘Becoming a Cookbook Writer’ (read it, it’s great).

The First Step to Working for Yourself

In Career, Freelance, Tasmania on January 27, 2012 at 2:50 pm

Want to make money from your art, craft or your writing? Want to turn your creativity into a small business or a freelance career? I truly believe that it’s possible to move from whatever you’re doing right now that’s not doing it for you… into a custom-designed career that you really love.

So, what’s the First Step?

Simple. Streamline your lifestyle.

There’s a social trend at the moment to downsize debt, and to cut clutter. This is good because, as a general rule, we are fed a diet of information that tells us that we must consume more to ‘be’ more. In order to consume more, we must make more money; in order to make more money, we must work harder; in order tow work harder, we must give up more of our creative energy and  personal freedom – and so we lock ourselves into a cycle of work and consumption that is ultimately unsatisfying. Sure, buying new stuff makes you feel great for a moment, but there’s little long-term gain and no creative product to show for it.

So how about challenging that idea that you must keep making ever-more money? If you genuinely want to find more freedom for yourself – the freedom that leaves you open to creating for a living – you’ll need to sacrifice short-term gain for long-term rewards.

Just let go.

Let go of traditional expectations about how you should make money, and how much money you should make.

Want to have more time to write, paint, whatever? Then accept a part-time job that allows you that creative time. Yes, you’ll probably earn less, but if you make the choice to stop going out for dinner, to stop buying new clothes, to stop expecting expensive holidays, to stop buying your lunch everyday, you won’t be needing that extra money

Everyone has choices, everyone can make the decision about how they make and spend their money. I know everyone’s situation is different, but if you’re not prepared to make sacrifices in order to gain freedom, then you simply don’t want that freedom badly enough.

Small steps work.

Your ultimate goal might be to work for yourself, and make a living out of your art. That might seem impossible right now, but if you take small steps towards streamlining your life, you will eventually reach a place where you can spend a little less time being an employee, and more time on what matters to you – on creating.

Getting to this point is very satisfying, and it becomes addictive. Being less dependent on others/your bank/your conventional income means all the more independence for you and your creativity. Once you have a taste for freedom, you want more freedom – and it’s at this point that thoughts of working for yourself, and making money out of your art, become not only tempting – but possible.

I’m not saying this is easy to do, but it’s possible. You just have to make the decision that it’s a lifestyle worth working towards.

I can say this stuff, because I have done it.

I was in debt when I left Sydney for Tasmania. Despite having a high-paying magazine job in the Emerald City, each week had seen me slip further behind. Not for any outrageous reason. But, regardless of the reason(s), they are nothing more than excuses. You must take responsibility for your situation in order to change it.

So, I did. I moved to Tassie to give my son a better childhood, and myself the opportunity to create again – specifically, to write a novel. An interesting bi-product of that move has been a total turnaround in my finances, a turnaround in my attitude to making and spending money, and a turnaround in how I plan to work in the future…

In order to get rid of the debt, I worked very hard and lived very, very frugally for about 18 months after arriving in Tasmania. Catching the bus was considered an unnecessary expense. I bought no new clothes for more than 12 months. I would challenge myself to spend zero money on the weekends. We ate a shiteload of potatoes (from our vegie garden)… I was envious of my friends who were spending money on fun things, but I kept the goal of financial freedom in mind, and I rarely wavered. (I hope, however, that I never again have to go through a Tassie winter without heating. Absolutely appalling!)

Despite now being in a good financial shape (with only a small mortgage to tend), those 18 months changed my outlook forever. I’m not going back to ‘spending’, and therefore having to earn lots to keep up. I am happy to continue to live frugally, to only buy second-hand clothes when necessary, to grow our own vegies, to walk whenever possible, to not own a credit card… because I know it grants me the freedom to choose what work I do, and where and when I do it.

In fact, I want to take this concept even further this year ­– to depend less and less on making money the conventional way, and to create more and more space and freedom for doing things my way.

6 Reasons I’m Saying No (to Others and Myself)

In Career, Freelance, Tasmania on January 25, 2012 at 10:58 am

As a compulsive over-committer, as someone who has (in the past) confused busy-ness with productivity, as someone who is so inspired by ideas that I want to be involved in everything… I’m saying no more in 2012. Here’s why…

1. I am tired of being the messenger. It’s time for my own message!

This is an occupational hazard for many writers and designers – anyone who communicates for a living. Sometimes, it feels like your whole career has consisted of working on the achievements of others. I have a lot of energy and ideas, and I believe in being generous (in fact, I frequently give away my ideas for free). But, when I spend all my time helping others achieve their goals, it leaves too little for my own. Yet I clearly have something people want: people pay for my advice, my opinions and my ideas… so I should respect this more.

2. I want people (read: ‘Tasmanians’) to respect creative work

Although the issue is widespread, the tendency to devalue the creative process and product is particularly endemic in Tasmania. Too many people want things for free, or cheap, or are slow to pay. I’ve worked hard to be financially independent, and I don’t have to tolerate this attitude. In saying no – to low-paid jobs, or ones that don’t respect the time and effort it takes to create – I’m stating that I value my, and others’, creativity. It’s important to educate people on the value of creativity; being selective (and explaining your reason) helps to do this.

3. I need to focus

I am a scanner. I like doing many different things – and I can do many different things. It’s great to be multi-talented; but, if unfocused, it can manifest itself as scattered and distracted. I blithely start countless projects in the hope that one of them will be the lightbulb that shows me what I really want to do with my life. What I should be doing, is taking the time to stop and consider what truly matters to me – not expect this enlightenment to come from external sources. Just because I can do anything, doesn’t mean I should!

4. I believe there is enough to go around

But I didn’t always believe this. I have previously felt pressured to do something right now in case the opportunity passed me by. From a young age, we’re indoctrinated in the concept of the Scarcity Principle: that there’s not enough to go around, and everyone’s in competition for financial gain, creative recognition, whatever… But you should challenge this false idea. Believe that what you have to say will be valuable, whenever you choose to tell it.

5. I feel there are more sustainable and satisfying ways to use my talents

Although my career has not been traditional, the way I’ve offered my services has been. In other words: reactionary. People want something, I deliver it. My skills and talents are charged out by the hour, or the word, or the job. I expend the effort, then it’s in the public domain for a short period of time. This is conventional business practice, and most people follow it. But I want better. I can create a business model for myself that means I can pass on my ideas and advice in a more sustainable way; one that’s not restricted to hourly rates or dependent on me being physically present… More on this another day.

6. I crave a sanity buffer

Once upon a time, I only had to worry about myself. I could stay up all night to meet a deadline. Those days are long gone, and I now have no control over huge portions of my life. If things are going well, I can juggle my commitments well; but if my child gets sick, everything falls apart. It’s stressful to be sailing so close to the wind. More space, please!


  • I’ve just said no to someone who wants to meet for (another) coffee, to ask my opinion, for free (again), on their project;
  • I’ve said no to something I would’ve usually loved to work on – because the timing was insane, and the person wasn’t prepared to compensate me for that;
  • I’ve said no to continuing on with a committee that was far too time-consuming; and
  • I’ve said no to my Masters (again), as uni will always be there when I’m ready – right now, however, it’s not directly relevant to the achievements I’m focused on this year…

I am discovering that if you say no to more things, you create more space and time to consider each request as it comes in; making it easier to choose wisely rather than simply react.


Writing Freelance Features

In Career, Freelance, Tasmania, Writing on January 23, 2012 at 10:47 am

Want to write a great magazine or newspaper article? What does it take to discover that one unsung idea, pitch the piece to an editor, produce the thing and see it through to published completion?

It’s a hard-to-pin-down process; when I wrote my first published article, about 13 years ago, I stumbled blindly through the whole thing. But despite having written thousands and thousands of published words since, seeing my byline in a publication still gives me a little kick.

Note: Although my focus this year is less on being the messenger (ie. documenting the achievements of others) and more on being the message (creating my own achievements), there’s no doubt that when you come across a great story about someone/something/somewhere else, it’s empowering to be able to tell it.

I’ve just finished two stories about Tasmania – one for House & Garden magazine, and one that has no home as yet (but will likely end up in a national food magazine).

One of these stories I pitched directly to the editor, the other was done ‘on spec’ – purely because my photographer, Nick Watt, and I were entranced with the story and had a couple of days free to shoot it. (Local Tasmanian stylist, Charlotte Bell, below, lent her aesthetic skills for both shoots.)

I do not take the opportunity to write these features for granted: interviewing interesting people, in beautiful locations, while working with some of the most talented people in the business… it certainly beats sitting at a desk all day!

So, I thought I’d do a few posts on the process of freelance writing for magazines, or newspapers, or websites (or whatever takes your fancy). I know instinctively how I do this, but I’ve never put it down in black and white.

I’d like to look at things such as:

  • How to unearth the untold stories around you
  • How to pitch a story to an editor (including how to find the USP – the unique selling point)
  • How to produce the story (interviewing, logistics etc)
  • How to structure and write a story
  • The business side of freelance feature writing

If there’s anything you want to know about writing freelance features, let me know!

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