KYD Writers’ Workshop and Extraordinary Routines bring you a new monthly column delving into the routines, writing habits, rituals, challenges and triumphs of a diversity of Australian writers. In this debut edition, Brodie Lancaster shares a typical day and her methods for avoiding the blank page, writing your first book, and learning how to recharge.
Brodie Lancaster is often asked how she fits it all in. In the past year alone, she has published her first book, pop culture memoir No Way! Okay, Fine (Hachette); printed the eighth and final edition of her zine that started it all, Filmme Fatales; been a co-ordinator at the annual Independent Photography Festival; contributed to publications including the Guardian, Rolling Stone, Junkee and Pitchfork; appeared on various panels and radio spots; and occasionally DJed – all around her job at The Good Copy.
But Brodie isn’t about to pretend that she is in possession of the Master Secrets to Scheduling. ‘It’s not as if I do it all,’ she admits. ‘It’s that I do all the work and figure out when I can have a life outside of it.’
Aside from her impressive output and career trajectory, what is also striking about Brodie’s approach to writing is her pragmatism.
She isn’t precious about where or when she writes – often when she has a freelance deadline she will type out a few hundred words for a story in the notes app on her phone while darting between speaking events, errands and her nine-to-five.
In recent years, a full-time job as managing editor at The Good Copy has also alleviated the pressures of putting a dollar sign to every pitch. ‘Because I make a salary, I don’t have to write something on the side, from a financial standpoint. I know that’s a real luxury as a writer, because I don’t have to get words on the page every day if I can’t manage it or don’t have time to do it.’
I acted as Brodie’s ‘human deadline’ while she wrote the draft for No Way! Okay Fine. Each week she would have to send me a new chapter or risk a scornful eye. Week by week, chapter by chapter, I could see the book coming together, but I still had questions: How was she completing such polished, intriguing chapters each week? How did she have the headspace to compile a memoir alongside work at The Good Copy as well as various freelance and speaking gigs? How was she simultaneously producing the final edition of Filmme Fatales?
A Day in the Life
I wake up between 5.30 and 6.30am – I enjoy getting up early because it means I don’t have to rush. I used to get up and write before going to work at The Good Copy, but I also used to burn myself out pretty regularly, trying to do too many things. Now, unless I have a free night or a free weekend, I don’t take on freelance work.
In the morning I basically get up, have a shower, make coffee, toast a bagel, do my skincare routine, sit down in bed and watch some YouTube videos while I eat my breakfast and do my make-up. Which is something I never used to do – I never used to spend time on myself in that way.
I used to burn myself out pretty regularly, trying to do too many things.
If I’m out late the night before for work, I just adjust my waking time so I still have seven hours sleep. Or sometimes I’ll just turn my alarm off and go to sleep for another hour. I do that a lot.
Between 9am – 5pm
During the week I’m at The Good Copy from 9am – 5pm working on copywriting briefs for various clients.
The Good Copy has been super flexible and understanding about me taking time off for the book, and I know not every workplace is like that. But I have to prepare for time off; It’s not like I can just get up and be like, ‘I’m going to do a writer’s festival panel’ – I have no leave time between now and the end of the year because I’ve used it all.
I’ve just reduced my hours to four days, and will soon go down to three so I can carve out more non-work time on nights and weekends.
My evenings really fluctuate. This month for example, there’s MIFF, then I’m a speaker on a panel, then it’s the Melbourne Writer’s Festival. My next free weekend night is September 10. This has been my life this year. Yes, I get all that work done, but to the detriment of, I don’t know, exercise or eating well, or calling my friends, or seeing my family. I don’t rest properly.
I think having empty time in my calendar is also scary, but I never think to fill it with social stuff because I know I can fill it with work. I’ll get this terrified feeling when I look ahead in my diary and see I’ve got free time. What do I do if I haven’t got anything to do? I usually squeeze in a bit of freelance work even when it probably isn’t the best thing to be doing.
I’ll get this terrified feeling when I look ahead in my diary and see I’ve got free time. What do I do if I haven’t got anything to do?
I usually try to go to sleep before 10.30pm. I’ll watch TV, look at my phone, turn it off and go to sleep and then wake up and look at it again, then go back to sleep, then I’m like, ‘What about Instagram?’
Inside the Writing Process
On meeting a deadline for a book…
Since the book came out people often ask how I did it in such a relatively short span of time. I tell them I had one day a week off work for four months, and their response is often, ‘Wait, what? That’s still not a lot of time.’
But I’d also mess with that day a lot. Because I was checking my email, was on Slack, and had my phone, there would be stuff coming through from The Good Copy that I needed to do, and sometimes that would turn into hours of client emails. Once you check in, it’s really hard to check out again. Other times I would get up and be like, ‘Okay, I’m going to go to the post office.’ And while I was at the post office, I’d get groceries, and then, while I was getting groceries, I might get a coffee. Then all of a sudden it would be midday and I wouldn’t have done anything.
I know myself well enough to know that I can get something out in a short period of time, if I need to.
I’m a pretty fast writer and I know myself well enough to know that I can get something out in a short period of time, if I need to. I also knew that the book didn’t have to be completely finished, it just had to be done and then there would be edits and I’d have more time to polish it.
On using notes to avoid the fear of the blank page…
For many of the book chapters, I would write entire sections while I was watching or reading something relevant and then I’d just paste those notes in that particular chapter. That way, when it came to sit down at my writing desk to work on, say, chapter seven, I’d already have something there to start with. I had, like, each chapter in a different text document, then I had one text document that was just notes. I’d just be like adding stuff, and moving stuff around.
I’d also use the Reminder function on my Gmail during the week whenever I thought of something. I’d open up the Inbox app, go to Reminders, and I’d write, when you were seven, and this happened, and also this episode from Daria, and also this song. And then when I sat down to write I’d open up my reminders to help refresh my memory.
Using notes might have originally come from the last few years working as a copywriter. I start with putting all the essential information in a document – quotes, key messages, facts – then it’s just a matter of figuring out where it all fits. It’s like doing a jigsaw puzzle, which I love.
I start with putting all the essential information in a document – quotes, key messages, facts – then it’s just a matter of figuring out where it all fits.
On a room of one’s own…
To recharge I need to be alone. I live alone, so I never have to go home and be ‘on.’ When I did live in a share house I felt like a bad housemate because I would come home, go sit in my room, and watch TV or do work.
I recently wrote about the movie Girlfriends and big part of that movie is about one woman who’s living alone and has a creative life but is struggling with not having someone there with her. She looks to her best friend who is married, has a baby and has moved upstate, and idealises her life, but that friend is not doing any writing and wishes she was living independently like her friend in the city. They both see the other as having the better deal.
I think like that sometimes, where I’m like, ‘I love living alone, I love being by myself,’ but then I’m like, ‘Why isn’t anyone here?’ My friends who live with their partners always have someone around if they need them which would be really nice sometimes, but don’t always want to have someone around.
On maintaining relationships with a busy schedule…
I never want this to sound cliquey, but I think the writer’s festival scene helps build friendships with people you don’t see all the time. You might not see someone for a year but then you pick up where you left off when you’re in the same place at the same time. I might not talk to someone every day or keep up to date with every single thing we’re doing in our lives, but when we catch up it’s rare, but valuable and quality time.
I used to work with my best friends and would see them every day, but since we moved to other jobs we have to make more of an effort. We don’t see each other every weekend but obviously if they need me, I’m there and vice versa. I have to get better at making the effort and not just staying at home to eat pasta and do puzzles when I have free time!
On saying no to others and your own expectations…
There’s that pressure that saying no to something is going to destroy your career, but really, saying no is going to preserve yourself. I put less of that pressure on myself now and trust myself with my work enough to know that I can get more work if I need to. People are not going to be like, ‘Who are you? We forgot about you because you didn’t write an article every week for a year,’ if you take a break and recharge.
There’s that pressure that saying no to something is going to destroy your career, but really, saying no is going to preserve yourself.
On the easiest and the hardest part of writing…
The hardest thing is coming up with ideas. That’s why I’ve never tried to go full time freelance: because I know that I can’t come up with ideas every day and don’t want to rely on ideas to be able to pay my rent.
Then the easiest thing, to be completely honest, is finding the work. Ever since I started writing for Rookie, more editors have wanted me to write for them than I have been able to. That’s the position I’ve been in the last few years, which I know is a really lucky place to be. But even though that’s the case, I don’t have enough ideas to say yes to everything. I don’t want to be like, ‘Imagine what I can do if just had the time!’ Because it’s just as much about the ideas as it is about the time it takes to get them out.
On the writing advice she wishes she knew earlier…
Something that I only figured out as I was writing the book – which was maybe a little late – is how important it is to figure out what you sound like away from a publication or an editor. If you’re working up to anything as a writer, work up to figuring out what you sound like.
No Way! Okay, Fine is available now at Readings.
Hear Brodie discuss the book on the latest KYD Podcast.