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Show Your Working is a regular column exploring how some of our favourite writers get things done. This month, we take a peek into the writing routine of author Victoria Hannan, whose debut novel Kokomo, a fierce, heartbreaking and funny story about secrets, desire and regret, is available from 28 July from Hachette. Read an extract on our website, and enter our giveaway!

Victoria’s workspace. Image: Supplied

What does your workspace look like?

I wrote the first three drafts of Kokomo at different artist residencies. The first, on the Brazilian island of Ilhabela where I spent four weeks covering up every inch of bare skin to avoid being bitten by borrachudos (tiny insects that inject poison into your skin). I worked outside at a wooden desk overlooking a garden full of hot pink flowers, banana palms, hummingbirds. I’d get up early, write up to five thousand words a day, go swimming. It was a strange, itchy and dreamy month that feels like a lifetime ago.

The second residency was a few weeks in Tasmania, about an hours’ drive from Hobart. Mostly, I worked on a sofa with a view to a lagoon and the ocean. A few times I tried to write at a desk but soon discovered it was surrounded by giant spiders.

The third residency was in a small town in Iceland where I either worked from a sofa in the town’s youth hostel or on my bed in a wooden house near a thermal lake. On clear days you could see a volcano from the kitchen. I was there in the middle of summer so the sun never went down. It was a strange and stressful time.

At home, now, I have a desk I sit at for about an hour every morning. The chair is too low and it makes my shoulders hurt. Something about it feels stifling so instead of writing, I end up internet shopping or watching cooking videos on YouTube. Eventually, I climb onto and then into bed and that’s where I actually get work done. People always look at you sadly when you tell them you work from bed but I feel sorry for them because they don’t know how good it is.

People always look at you sadly when you tell them you work from bed, but I feel sorry for them because they don’t know how good it is.

The view from Victoria's Iceland residency. Image: Supplied

Are you an analog or digital writer?

My handwriting is pretty much illegible these days so mostly digital. I use a physical diary for a daily to-do list that are separated into my different projects and admin.

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

I oscillate between Microsoft Word and Scrivener depending on the stage of the project. I find Scrivener helpful for first and second drafts, or anything I’m writing from scratch, but I hate editing in it so I’ll cut and paste over to Microsoft Word.

I like writing in the Notes app both when I’m at and not near a computer. If I’m stuck, it helps to go for a walk, sit at a cafe, go pretty much anywhere, and revisit things in notes. I wrote the whole first chapter of Kokomo on the Notes app on my phone while standing on a train platform on my way to work.

I’m really paranoid about losing work so I’ll back up at least once a day in Google Docs and also email myself a draft.

Describe your writing practice?

If I’m on residency, I’m incredibly strict about how I use my time. For each draft, I’ll have a spreadsheet that outlines how much I have to write every day to get it done in the time I have.

I’ll generally start around eight, often earlier. I do a kind of jacked-up pomodoro where I set a timer for fifty-five minutes and write a thousand words, then go outside for fifteen minutes, make a cup of tea, read for a bit, and then go back to it. I’ll finish around three and exercise, lie down, drink, read. I’ll generally work about eight days in a row then take a day off.

The view from Victoria's residency in Brazil. Image: Supplied

I’m motivated by the time constraints of residencies, by the fact I’ve spent all my money to get there and by seeing other artists working around me. I don’t want to be the person who’s travelled all that way only to fail to do what I said I would.

I never edit or re-write as I go. I don’t even read what I’ve written until a month or so after the draft is finished. I spend the time in-between drafts re-plotting and re-planning, then do the whole thing all over again.

During lockdown, I’ve had to find different ways to work. My freelance copywriting work has dried up, so I’ve had more time to work on my next manuscript. I’ve been trying to write five days a week but I’m having trouble finding the energy and focus.

I write best when I’m far from home. When I travel, I find I take more notice or see the world more clearly.

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

I’ve worked as a copywriter, UX writer and content strategist in advertising and digital for about fifteen years so I’ve learnt to write quickly. I’ve learnt that it’s possible to write even when my brain doesn’t want me to. This practice of writing daily, learning to write in different voices and for different audiences, has given me discipline that I (try) to use for writing fiction.

I had no idea how to write and structure a novel so I wrote a couple before Kokomo to teach myself. I wrote them all in quite short bursts too: one during NaNoWriMo, another by writing a thousand words every day before work for a few months.

How do you encourage inspiration to strike?

I write best when I’m far from home. When I travel, I find I take more notice or see the world more clearly.

When I’m home, I try to walk without listening to anything. Swimming laps helps too.

As I’ve had to write for work for so long, writer’s block is not something I’ve ever really been able to indulge in. I do suffer from writing-related anxiety and can have trouble getting started (either in the morning or on a new draft or project). I think that’s why the pressure of the time constraints at a residency work so well for me. It has to feel like now or never or it’ll end up being never.

GIVEAWAY: Thanks to Hachette Australia we have 5 reading copies of Kokomo to give away to lucky KYD Members. Entries open on 24 July and close on 7 August 2020. Find out how to enter here.

Kokomo is available now at your local independent bookseller.

Looking to kickstart your own writing practice? Check out our range of online Writers’ Workshops, with a great range of courses designed for writers across all genres and skill levels.