Geetanjali Mukherjee

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

How I Write: Authors on Their Writing Process - Scarlett Van Dijk

Today, I'm interviewing Australian author Scarlett Van Dijk.

1.       When did you first start writing?
I started writing my first novel, Sky Stone, when I was fifteen years old. It was originally to be a novella, written for a competition with a word limit of 20,000 words. But when it went over that limit, and I was far from finished, it became my first novel.

2.       What are your books about? Are you self / traditionally published or hybrid?
I write novels in the Young Adult Fantasy genre with my current works, in the Sky Stone series, classed as sword and sorcery. I enjoy writing about teenage or young adult characters who are still exploring themselves and their place in our world, usually thrown into completely alien scenarios to them.

My two novels are both self-published. I believe that self-publishing gives me more control over the finished product of my books, making them feel more like my own creations. I don’t want my books to be changed purely for the sake of meeting a popular market and being ‘sellable’. Writing is a love of mine and my aim with publishing is merely to share my stories with any who wish to read them.

3.       What led to your love for literature? Any favorite books / teachers / writing mentors?
As a child I detested writing. Yeah, I know, how on earth did I become a writer then? I didn’t enjoy writing because I was yet to be diagnosed with Irlen Syndrome, which made reading difficult and a strain. After being diagnosed around the age of eleven, I suddenly began to enjoy reading. In Grade 8 at school, I finally decided to look through the school library, and came across my first fantasy novel. This was a novel from Tamara Pierce’s ‘Song of the Lioness’ series. I fell in love with the genre and began to devour young adult fantasy novels. Tamara was a huge inspiration for me to start writing Sky Stone, my first novel. One of my English teachers was a great supporter and without her help I would likely never have pressed on with this first book.

Since then I have both read and written a lot more. Two of my favourite authors are Robert Jordan with his Wheel of Time series, and Brandon Sanderson with his Mistborn and Stormlight Archive. I am awed by the amount of detail and depth that their worlds and characters possess and aim to eventually write something just as special.

4.       What's your writing process like? Do you outline? Do you write by hand / type / dictate?
My writing process consists of a few major steps: Brainstorming and idea plotting, Outlining, Draft writing, Rewrites and edits.

I keep a notebook with me wherever I go. So when I am still coming up with possible ideas for a story, it’s setting, and characters, I will be able to note it down. If I don’t write things down I forget! As I begin to get a feel for the story, I then begin a Notes document on the computer where I finalize many of these ideas. I will have a section dedicated to the setting/world including its hierarchy and ruling system, history, environment, etc. I have a section for characters where I complete their personalities and traits including their appearance, strengths and weaknesses, and other interesting attributes such as unique relationships with other characters and their social standing.

From there I start of the outlining process. For me, my method of outlining is still evolving and seems to change with every book I write as I determine better ways to do so. Currently, as I am beginning to write a new book, my process includes a fairly detailed timeline of events including side plots (such as a romantic plot line).

I write my manuscripts by typing and save my documents in multiple locations to avoid losing my work. As I write my drafts, I tend to write which ever scenes are most prevalent in my mind. I find this keeps them more interesting as I have an emotion connection with the scene. If I put off writing a scene, I find it loses some of its freshness in my mind. In this way, I end up with multiples scenes that need to be ordered correctly and linked together to form the story. It keeps the story from becoming too predictable, as I find it does when writing from the start of a book through to the end.

5.       What's your editing process?
My editing process starts with the content of the story. This means making sure that I have covered all unanswered questions posed in the story, making sure that there are no plot holes, that the characters are making choices true to themselves, etc.

Next, I check my scenes for unnecessary information. Does a scene add to the story or inform the reader of something crucial to the story? If not it gets deleted or the unnecessary parts are removed.

After this I read the story over multiple times, picking up spelling and grammatical errors that I may have missed in earlier reads. I do this prior to sending the story on to a trusted friend for further editing. A new pair of eyes often finds problems you have looked over. After this, it goes to the professional editor. Even for a self-published author, having a professional editor look over your work is crucial.

6.       Any favorite apps / software / technology for writing?
I personally prefer to use good ol’ Microsoft Word. I find it easy to use and organize.
Word has a function that I love called the Navigation Pane. When you add a new heading/chapter, this is automatically added to the Navigation Pane allowing you to easily click through sections of your story. You can have your full manuscript in the same document and still be able to easily find the section you are looking for.

7.       What did you find most / least useful in learning to write?
I’m a believer in learning to write your own way. Each author finds methods which work best for them. For a new author, it can be a daunting endeavor to begin writing a novel. Sometimes you believe you should ‘learn’ how to write before you start. I disagree. The only good way to learn how to write is through the action of writing.

If you are still unsure about starting a novel without prior experience, then I suggest using writing prompts. Find images or quotes and base a story or scene from that. I find this a great tool for both new and veteran authors.

8.       Who or what inspires you? Where / how do you get your book ideas?
Music is a great inspiration for my novels. Often I will lay and merely daydream to music. Many of my stories have unfolded in this way. I find doing so in the bath gets those ideas flowing!

Another good way to get ideas is holidays away from home, especially to new lands. When I went on my trip to the UK, I wrote 30,000 words of Guardian Core! I was traveling a lot by bus and being able to look out at the new scenery around me, with my laptop before me, just kept it all coming. I could escape the distractions of home life, and take in new sights and knowledge, and let my imagination run rampant. There is a reason so many authors love writing retreats!

9.       When in the day do you usually write? For how long?
I write whenever I get the chance to. There is a bad habit of many authors (I have fallen prey to it in the past), which is to only write when you’re in the mood or you “have enough time”. In this way you will never write a word because the perfect time will never come. Obviously it is great if you can sit down with a cup of tea in the evening and smash out a couple of hours’ worth of writing, however things never go that way. I find even small gaps in my life where I can sit and write, even if it is only a paragraph.

10.    Describe your desk / writing corner / favorite writing spot.
I have a desk at home beside a window where I can sit and write. It is away from where my family will be watching television and I can close the doors and put on my own music. Here I can relax and sink into my mind and draw out my ideas.
Unlike some, I can’t write in a cafĂ© where there are lots of people talking, or in a park because I feel too vulnerable. Libraries can make good writing nooks though; nice and quiet, smell like books, and other people reading or working gives a good “get down to business” vibe.

11.    Do you listen to music while you write? What kind of music?
I have a playlist of songs which relate to my Sky Stone series. These songs remind be specific characters or scenes. However, I can find it difficult on some occasions to listen to music with lyrics while writing. I end up listening to the song rather than working!
So, I also have a playlist of instrumental songs, such as theatrical and relaxation music. This doesn’t distract me from my own thoughts while I write.

12.    Do you ever get writers' block? What are some ways you get around it?
I do get writers block as I’m sure most authors do at some point. I have a few ways of getting around it. One way is to listen to music, have a bath, try and put other things for my mind and just dream. I’ll also read over what I have already written and reacquaint myself with the story. If that doesn’t work I’ll get out, go for a walk or do some exercise as this usually makes me feel more energetic.

Sometimes however, nothing will come to me. Usually it is because I am stressed and have many things crowding my mind for attention. Sometimes, I just need to take some time out. Have a day, or even a week, to just relax and do things I enjoy. Watch some television, play computer games, go out with friends, not think about writing for a while. Just giving myself a break from writing can be enough to reignite the spark to write.
It can also help to just write something different. Find some writing prompts and write some random scenes or short stories. Even poetry.

13.    Do you now, or did you ever have any day jobs? Did they add to or detract from your writing?
Writing is not my job but a hobby. My job is as a radiographer at a public hospital. I think in a way it does detract from my writing. I am a shift worker working a 24-hour service so it makes it difficult to make habits outside of work. However, if I dedicate myself, I can make myself write in my free time around work. Writing is a love and I don’t do it to make money. It is a release and an escape from reality.

14.    How do you make the time to write?
I don’t so much make time to write as I take the opportunities I have. Everyone has time to write if they allow themselves to take advantage of it. It’s a matter of, “do I sit here and browse Facebook for half an hour?” or “do I get some writing in?”. Even if I only have small periods of time to write, it’s best to use them otherwise nothing will be written.

15.    How much marketing do you do? Which platforms are you most active on? 
I try to do a little marketing each day. I am most active on my Facebook page and try to post a picture or quote each day. My Facebook is linked to my Twitter account so everything posted to Facebook also appears on Twitter.

I also have Google+, LinkedIn, and Goodreads which I check every few days. Here I occasionally post in discussions, answering questions in the communities there.
I have a blog on my website (which I admit to having let go lately and need to pick up again). There I post about the writing crafts and my own writing, as well as hosting guest authors.

16.    What's the most fun aspect of marketing? The most challenging?
I find the most fun aspect is interacting with other authors and readers. It’s no fun merely promoting without receiving any return. I particularly like hosting competitions for free books.

The most challenging aspect is just to keep going with it. It can be time consuming if you allow it. Blogging for instance takes time to write each post, time I’d prefer to spend writing my books!

17.    What project are you working on now?
Currently I’m working on the third and final book of the Sky Stone series, called Magic Spawn.

I am also setting up to begin writing a book separate to the Sky Stone which I am currently calling Nexus. This will be set in the future which is exciting as I have never written anything in the future before!

18.    What books do you like to read? What are you reading now?
I love to read fantasy of any sort! I also quite like Japanese manga. I’m just about to begin reading the fantasy novels by a personal friend of mine; The Magic Within Series by Sharon Gibbs.

My favourite author right now is Brandon Sanderson. I’m gradually making my way through every one of his books!

Scarlett Van Dijk was born in 1993 in Geelong, Victoria, before relocating to South Australia with her family. Her love of writing grew during her time at Wilderness School, with her first novel, Sky Stone, begun at the age of fifteen. After graduating high school, Scarlett entered the University of South Australia studying the Bachelor of Medical Radiations (Medical Imaging), completing the degree in 2014. In 2012 Scarlett began writing Guardian Core, the second book in the Sky Stone series, and published this in 2015. Scarlett's love for creative writing is accompanied by an interest in dancing, reading, and desktop publishing.

Guardian Core - Sky Stone Series

When Skyla was thrown into the magical land of Branzia, she had no idea what was in store for her. But now, after becoming a legend throughout the land, she realizes that she isn’t finished yet…

Thrown into inner turmoil, with her greatest weakness exposed, she must now step into a major project which could shape the future for all Sky Guardians; the Guardian Core. It isn’t long before this future is threatened. Skyla must overcome these new challenges… or be destroyed by what is most precious to her.

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