Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Interview - Amra Pajalic

Amra Pajalic is a Melbourne writer with a slew of achievements to her name. She has won or placed in countless short story competitions and her debut novel The Good Daughter won the 2009 Melbourne Prize for Literature's Civic choice award. She has also been a Writer in Residence in high schools for three years running now (lucky kids!). She was Project Manager and co-author of the ground-breaking What a Muslim Woman Looks Like and is a columnist with the online journal Sultana's Dream. Phew! As if that wasn't enough she's currently working on her second novel funded by Arts Victoria. What else can I tell you about this talented, loquacious, hard-working, writer-extraordinaire? Oh, yeah, she's also my friend! Yay!

When did you know you wanted to be a writer and what steps did you take to make it happen?
Being a writer was a childhood dream, it just took a while to make it a reality. The first step was enrolling in a Diploma of Arts in Professional Writing and Editing. This gave me the opportunity to learn about the industry, create networks, experiment with different types of writing to find my voice and make some life long friends (hello Jodi). I wrote a lot of short stories, one novel, and then The Good Daughter which became my first published novel.

Amra Pajalic (photo courtesy of the author)

Do you have any routines or rituals you perform before starting a day's work or a new writing project? How do you motivate yourself? 
I find that leaving the house to write really helps keep me motivated because I’m away from distractions and then have to follow through.

Do you have a typical work day? Can you describe an example of how you structure your day?

I usually like to work on my fiction first thing in the morning and then in the afternoon I can work on non fiction articles, funding applications etc. I set a weekly word count goal and some days I write more, some days less. I find that once the novel begins taking off and the ideas are flowing I don’t have to work as hard to achieve my word count.

Which writers have been your main influences or have provided inspiration for your own work?
The Good Daughter was inspired by Melina Marchetta's Looking for Alibrandi and Randa Abdel-Fattah's Does my Head Look Big in This?

Amra's writing materials and tools

How do you go about developing ideas for new writing?
My writing process when working on a novel is to write a crappy first draft that is stream-of-consciousness writing. This is usually one long document with disconnected scenes, character sketches and descriptions of setting. Once I get over 50,000 words I’ve usually figured out the story, characters, plot arc, timeline and chronology of scenes. I will also get feedback on sections with my writing group and have some discussions with my support network about aspects of my novel. 
Then the real work begins of creating a draft where I stitch it all together by re-writing, revising, merging scenes, writing scenes joining up action and basically moulding my misshapen words into something resembling a novel. I keep revising electronically until I’ve done as much as I can, then print, read, revise and keep doing this until I’ve reached the end of what I can contribute to the novel. At this point I seek feedback.

Amra Pajalic on a panel at the Melbourne Writers' Festival 2010

Do you like to write by hand or computer and why? 
I love, love handwriting and this is usually how I begin my first draft of anything, however I’ve had Carpal Tunnel surgery and my hand is now compromised so I’ve had to teach myself to do my first draft on the computer and try to switch off the internal editor. I think it’s really important to let that first germ of inspiration flow by itself and not kill your muse by editing, which is why I prefer handwriting because it prevents you editing your work.

Amra's notebook and pens 

What do you do when you have a creative block and need to 'refill the well'? 
I stop writing and read. I like re-reading books that have inspired me. Some of my favourite reference texts are Bird By Bird by Anne Lammott, Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass, The First Five Pages by Noah Lukeman, and The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. I also watch my favourite movies that inspire me: Good Will Hunting and Stir of Echoes. Usually after a week of deliberately not writing the urge builds again and I’m back, stronger than ever.

Thanks for joining us today, Amra! It was fascinating to hear how you go about the mammoth task of writing a novel and it was a great insight into the life of a working writer. Thank you!

To learn more about Amra and her work visit her website and blog.