Allison Tait describes herself thus on her website:
“I’m a freelance writer, author and blogger, living large(ish) in a small(ish) town. I write a lot. I combine my day job (feature articles & non-fiction books), with my night job (fiction), and my 24/7 job (family). Fortunately, I gave up sleep years ago!”
A professional writer for over 20 years, Allison started her career as a staff writer for magazines and newspapers, and in recent times has added online publishing to her list.
Allison’s latest incarnation is writer of children’s fiction. Her first book in a series – The MapMaker Chronicles – Race to the End of the World – is published by Hachette Australia, under the name A.L.Tait and was released in October 2014. It is the first in a trilogy that is already garnering her a legion of young fans across the country.
Congratulations on the release of the Mapmaker Chronicles. You changed your writing name for this novel. What was the motivation behind this decision?
I didn’t so much change my name as abbreviate it! I wanted to differentiate between the writing I do for adults and this book, which is for kids.
When did you decide to write children’s fiction? Or did it choose you? Can you outline the start of the creative process behind this project? Was there a light bulb moment?
I think The Mapmaker Chronicles chose me! I never imagined I’d be an author of children’s books. When I began writing fiction, I wrote women’s fiction (which I still write, and so far have completed two full-length (90,000+ words) manuscripts, one of which went very close to publication and the second of which I am redrafting).
But I have two boys, now aged seven and ten, and they are both fans of the ‘head-hurting’ question. We have long-and-involved conversations about where space ends, how high the stars are, whether there are any places in the world that remain unexplored, which dwarf from The Hobbit I would invite to a dinner party… you get the idea.
Several of those conversations, close together, led to one of those ideas that make you tingle all over.
“How far does space go?” asked Mr10, one night.
“Nobody knows,” I answered.
Then the next night: “How did they map the world?”
“Well, they had to go out there and find out,” I answered, distractedly.
“They must have been brave,” he answered.
“They were,” I said. “They would have felt exactly as we feel looking out into space, not knowing how far it goes or what’s out there.”
And just like that, in my mind I saw a race to map the world, and a boy who really didn’t want to go.
You have many writing projects on the go at any one time. How do you manage to delve in and out of genres and characters, fiction and non-fiction? Does one writing style provide relief for another?
Over many years of freelance writing, I’ve learnt to juggle lots of projects. I like to have one long-length manuscript on the go, and then I work on articles, corporate work, websites and other things as they come up, using the deadlines as the best way to prioritise work. I really like to work this way – it means I’m never bored and I don’t get writers’ block because I simply move on to something else for a while if the words aren’t flowing for one project. I don’t work on more than one fiction project at a time – I just push through until I have it completed, putting aside any other ‘brilliant ideas’ for later.
With so much on your calendar how do you manage your writing time? Do you have a strict routine? Do you have to make personal sacrifices?
I have a mammoth To Do list and the paid work always comes first. When you have so many deadlines, it’s a simple matter of prioritising what needs to be done each day to ensure those deadlines are met. I don’t have a strict routine for writing in that I just do what needs to be done each day – but I’m at my desk while the boys are at school and I often work at night.
What advice do you have for starting out writers when it comes to pitching stories and managing deadlines? How do you deal with rejection?
Oh, this is such a massive subject. I have a lot of information on my blog at allisontait.com that’s full of advice for freelance writers and my eBook Get Paid To Write: The Secrets of Freelancing Success is full of tips and tricks of the trade. But as a starting point:
- A pitch is not just an outline of a subject you’d like to write about. You need to find the angle of the subject that is new and exciting and you need to sell it. It’s a real art form and it takes a lot of practice. I often suggest to my students at the Australian Writers’ Centre that they open a magazine, read a story and then try to write the pitch that got the story published.
- Reliability is essential for any freelance writer, and to be reliable you need to be organised. When you get commissioned to write an article, start making phone calls and lining up interviews that day – even if your deadline is four weeks away. Things don’t always go to plan and you need to allow yourself time to change interviewees or find a new case study or hose down any other disaster that arises.
- Rejection is part of the game. It’s no fun and I don’t think anyone ever grows to like it, but you do get used to it (sad but true). Remember that the editor is not rejecting you – it’s just that the particular idea you’re pitching is not right for that publication at that time. Have a look at your pitch, rethink it with a new publication in mind and try again. Don’t just send out one blanket pitch to six publications – that will result in a lot of rejection.
Do you have any remedies for writer’s block? (taking your cheeky puppy for a walk?)
Everybody deals with this in their own way. As I said, I don’t really get writer’s block per se, but I do allow myself a lot of thinking time when I’m writing a manuscript. I find that my mind works best when my body is involved in some kind of mindless, repetitive activity, so I walk (not with the puppy though – he’s too distracting!), I wash dishes, I weed the garden, I hang out washing… And I usually find that if I do that for a while, my mind busily unravels whatever plot problem I’ve struck.
Do you find the self-motivation and the discipline required difficult?
Honestly, no. I never struggle to motivate myself to write fiction because I love it. I’d rather be doing that than just about anything else. When it comes to the freelance work, my day job, I have been a fulltime freelance writer for more than 10 years now and I know how to get an article written. Yes, some days I’d rather faff about on the internet and tweet, but that just means that I sit down later that night and get the story done. If I don’t write the article, I don’t get paid – that’s a great motivator!
Writers these days have to be very technically savvy and keep an online presence. How do you juggle your social media commitments with writing?
I think that this comes down to time in the game, as well as time on the field. I have been blogging for nearly five years now and have worked through several different social media platforms to accompany that, whittling it down to the ones that I like. Over the years, I’ve built up an amazing community across my blog, Twitter and Facebook. I do a bit on G+ and Pinterest, but mostly I go to the others because I really like them. My advice to people in this area is two-fold: do what you like and, most importantly, what comes easily to you so that it doesn’t feel like work, and secondly, don’t expect miracles overnight – it takes time to find your networks and create a community.
Do you find writing a lonely experience? It can also be an anti-social exercise. How do the people in your life deal with that?
I like spending time by myself. I have a busy family and social life outside of my work, and I’m more than happy to be alone in a quiet house during the day. I don’t write when my boys are around – or try not to (there are occasions when deadlines need to be met) – and I don’t work on weekends.
Do you have a routine / a particular place and time when you write?
I write in my study. I’ve tried writing in cafes but they’re too distracting. I work while the boys are at school and at night after everyone goes to bed.
Who /what inspires your writing? Who are your favourite authors?
I’m inspired by everything around me. I’m inspired by the joy I get from bringing a story to life. I have so many favourite authors and favourite books that I don’t think I could even begin to name them.
Why writing? Have you always wanted to be a writer?
I think that writing is something that chooses you. I wanted to be an actor for a long time, but then I realised that the stage fright would kill me. I fell into magazine journalism and it kept me happy for a long time. And then I decided I was going to write fiction, so I sat down to give it a go. My first attempts were woeful, but you learn with every manuscript you write.
Do you have any further advice for starting out writers?
My main advice is to stop talking about writing and actually write. You’ll never get a book written if you don’t make the time to sit down and write it.
What is your next major writing project now that the Mapmaker Chronicles is released?
I’ve just completed the third manuscript in The Mapmaker Chronicles series, and I’m redrafting an adult novel that I’m hoping might be my first published in that area. That should take me to the end of the year. After that, who knows?
If you’d like to learn more about Allison Tait, you can check out her website here.
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