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Show Your Working is a regular column exploring how writers get things done. In this instalment, we take a peek into the writing routine of author Briohny Doyle. Her latest novel, Why We Are Here, is out now. 

Images: Supplied.

What does your workspace look like?

My desk is usually in front of a window. I’ve tried to mix it up over the years, but if I face a wall, I can’t concentrate. Maybe it’s something you can train yourself to do, like wearing a sleep mask, but I feel the need to look up from the page to the outside world. For most of my writing life, I’ve worked in my bedroom in share houses and it’s a puzzle to place the desk in such a way that it’s in front of a window, but I don’t have to look at work from my bed. Because I usually have a large dog as a cheerleader, my desk needs to be long enough for them to lie under it.

Right now, I have not one but two dedicated office spaces. It’s wild. At home, where I do most of my creative work, my desk is as long as the window it faces; cluttered with teacups and empty Red Bull cans. The only other furniture is an overstuffed bookshelf and a couch for napping on. My view is of a budding frangipani and a very ambitious magpie gathering creeper vine for a nest.

Are you an analog or digital writer?

For most of my writing life, I’ve been obsessed with using spiral-bound notebooks with no lines. A small visual art diary is best. I used to decorate them, but these days they look rather sober. And I’ve diversified. I use smaller reporter-style notebooks now, too. The type that will fit in a tiny handbag or pocket. I usually have to compromise and get the lined type, but if anyone knows where you can get tiny notebooks with no lines I’m listening.

If I face a wall, I can’t concentrate.

I use a paper calendar/diary, though sometimes I put things in my phone, which is to say I’m not very organised. Until I got a ‘real job’, I kept most deadlines and obligations in my head. For anything more than notes, I use a computer. I keep multiple documents open and cut and paste between them. I don’t save my work, and more than once the system has crashed and I’ve had to rewrite something significant. Still, I’ve often thought that I might not be a writer if I was forced to rewrite each draft longhand. With the novels, I do all the final fiddly edits on paper. Red pen. Classic.

What sort of software and hardware do you use to get your work done?

I wish I could say that I used a cool program, but I use Microsoft Word. I don’t like it, but I also don’t like thinking about computer applications. Or updating them. Or closing tabs or saving my work…

My perfect work/writing set-up might be a version of me who is more careful with all the above. But it also would be a room with a huge desk in the middle, perfect light and an ocean view through a giant window.

Images: Supplied.

Describe your writing practice.

Unless I’m working on something that’s really got me, I write for 1.5 hours in the morning. I do it in two forty-five-minute sprints with a break in the middle. During the sprints, I put my phone on airplane mode and take an analog note if I suddenly need to google something or make some rubbish urgent phone call. If I want to keep writing from here, that’s great, but if not, I don’t bully or criticise myself. That’s the deal me and my bitch boss (also me) have struck.

To begin, I usually read and edit yesterday’s work. I generally do creative work in the morning and I’m not good for more than admin after 3pm.

I wish I could say that I used a cool program but I use Microsoft Word.

In terms of planning, I’ve worked a few ways. Echolalia was mapped carefully, scene by scene. Why We Are Here was free-writing on notepads and then typing them up into a document that grew organically. Adult Fantasy was planned in chunks, with research questions and interviews for each chapter. I rewrote my debut, The Island Will Sink, so many times I honestly can’t say. It took me ten years to write that book. Sometimes I had a plan, sometimes I didn’t.

How do you navigate your various kinds of work?

I’m not sure I would have become a published writer if it wasn’t for the dole. I was on various forms of welfare from ages sixteen to twenty-nine. If I’d had to get a full-time job during that period, I don’t know what I’d be doing now.

My best friend’s mum recently reminded me that she had criticised me for being on welfare at nineteen. I had told her I was doing a writing apprenticeship. She thought that was shocking at the time, but says she now knows I was right. That was a nice message to get. It was hard for me to stay on welfare in the 2000s, but not as hard as it is for people now. I don’t know how young writers manage. They should bring back the 1980s dole for musicians and artists. Better yet, a universal basic income.

Until recently, I also binge worked. In my 20s, I’d go to Darwin in the dry season and work two jobs for cash and save the money so I could write for blocks of time at home. A PhD scholarship and the lucrative Sunday shift at a Queen Victoria Market store got me through about four years.

I’m not sure I would have become a published writer if it wasn’t for the dole.

I started teaching creative writing in the final year of my PhD. I’d take as many classes at as many universities as I could and then use the summer to write. Now I’m one of the lucky few with an ongoing position at a university.

I love teaching. My students inspire me. It’s the perfect job because it’s about writing without actually doing the writing so I can preserve that part of my brain. And it’s social. I couldn’t write marketing copy all day and then come home and write fiction. I’m so impressed with people who can.

Has your writing practice changed over the years? If so, how?

It changes all the time as different projects require different methods. Right now, I’m working on some essays. So it’s reading, taking notes, writing for 1.5 hours and sometimes more if I can focus or if I’m on a deadline. Why We Are Here was loose and varied, like the spiderwebs when the spiders are on different substances. Then in the edit, I had to come in as a sober spider and see if the web would hold.

How do you encourage inspiration to strike?

If writer’s block is about not being able to come up with a good idea, the only way I know to deal with it is to be patient and alert. I go for long walks. Look at art. Read lots, particularly poetry. Write in a diary. All that stuff. When I don’t have any ideas, or a project underway, I find it very hard to do those 1.5 hours and sometimes I give myself time off. Stressing out or punishing myself doesn’t help me write.

What’s next for you?

I’ve been going to lots of festivals—including one recently in Mumbai! I’ve also been spending most weekends doing events for Why We Are Here. I’m not sure what’s next. I love writing, but the publishing and promo part really exhausts me.