A Day in the Writing Life of … Louise Cusack

Welcome, Louise and thank you for participating on our blog.  Louise Cusack is an International award winning fantasy author whose best-selling Shadow through Time trilogy was selected by the Doubleday book club as their ‘Editors Choice’. 

What time of the day do you write? Are you a morning, night-owl or anytime writer?   Definitely a morning person.  I’m up at 5am most days and have a whole calm-centre thing that takes up the next couple of hours (walking the esplanade, meditating, gratitude journal) but I’m usually in front of the computer by 8am.  I use the Pomodoro Technique to ensure I get regular breaks, and I have a fetish for washing linen (it’s relaxing and I love the smell of clean washing) so that helps break up my day and provide good thinking time.  I also make a lot of vegetarian meals from scratch, which is time consuming, and I garden, so they’re all good ways to keep story unravelling in the back of my mind so it’s ready to download when my fingers hit the keyboard.

Where do you write? Do you have your own special place? Does the location vary?     I work in a study that overlooks the Coral Sea, so the soundtrack of my day is waves rolling onto volcanic rocks.  The (usually) gentle whooshing is like white-noise that mutes out everything else (lawn mowers, dogs barking, cars) and it’s also good for my vision to stop writing every ten minutes or so and relax my eyes by looking beyond my computer to the sun sparkling on the water.  I moved up the Qld coast from Brisbane last year for a sea change and haven’t regretted it once!

Are there any particular rituals you do to set the mood / harness your muse?   I’m a note-maker, so if anything comes up that’s not related to the manuscript, I add it to a To Do list.  That way my mind is empty of everything but story when I sit down to write.  Muse is something I can’t control, so my commitment is simply to be in front of the computer.  I don’t try to evoke anything.  I just do my half of the deal which is “showing up” and I expect/hope my muse does his/her half and inspires me.

Do you spend much time reading over the previous day’s work?   I tend to re-read the last couple of pages I wrote the day before, to get myself back into the viewpoint of the character I’m writing, then I just dive in.  Since I’ve been living at the beach I’ve doubled my weekly draft wordcount, and I’m pretty thrilled about that.

Are you a plotter / planner or a pantser?    I’m a pantser, so I often start with no clue as to what I’m writing.  The last book I wrote began with a girl running into the desert and me thinking “Who are you and what are you running from?”  I had to write on to find out!  Having said that, I usually always have a natural stopping place at about 20-30,000 words, and at that point I take a breath and look at what I’ve got, identifying main characters and their goal/motivation/conflict.  I put that on file cards and keep it next to the computer so I can see it when I’m writing in their viewpoint, keeping their priorities front of mind.

Do you have a schedule that you follow for your writing time?     When I’m writing draft of a new book I try to do only that (no manuscript assessments, workshops or mentoring).  I spend between four and eight hours in front of the computer each day and am happy if I can write 10,000 good words a week.

What writing tools do you favour?      I trained myself to a computer twenty years ago when I started writing, so that comes naturally to me.  However, when I’m thinking about the ‘big picture’ of the story and putting together plot threads etc in my mind to work out what the theme might be and what else is happening in the world (that my viewpoint characters can’t show me) I do that with a notepad and pen, preferably away from where I usually work.  Maybe in a coffee shop.  My brain seems to need to switch into a different mode, and I often think of draft as bumping around a forest getting bark on my nose, then when I take out my notepad and pen I’m in a metaphoric helicopter, rising up to see the shape of the forest.

Do you use whiteboards, posters, visual aids to help in your creativity?    When I stop to assess the story at the 20-30k mark, I often search the internet for pictures of people (actors usually) who are of a similar physicality to my characters, but more importantly are photographed with a particular ‘look’ (emotion, personality trait) that encapsulates who that character is for me.  I put these into a screen saver along with any landscape visuals that seem to match the world I’ve seen while I was writing, then when I pause to think about the story I look at those pictures and it sweeps me into the mood.  I also sometimes use music, and when I was writing my first fantasy trilogy I put Edvard Greig’s “In the Hall of the Mountain King” on repeat quietly behind me, so that its racing goblin beat was a constant soundtrack while I learnt how to create a fantasy world.

Can you name five objects that are always on or near your work desk while you write?

  1. A coffee cup.  Caffeine and writing are inseparable for me.
  2. My mobile phone.  It’s my diary, alarm, modem and only phone.
  3. Post It notes with inspirational thoughts on them.  The one I’m looking at now says Life is supposed to be fun!
  4. My A4 spiral notepad of whatever book/s I’m working on so I can make notes if something pops into my head.
  5. One of my backup thumbdrives.  I also have a hotmail account that I send backups to, simply to store them away from home.

Is your writing space messy, organized or somewhere in between?      While the rest of my house is neat and tidy, for some reason my desk is always a mess.  I clean it up once a week and always within hours it’s got papers spread out, post it notes hanging from the printer and a variety of charging or charged accessories and cables amid the chaos.  I have no idea why it doesn’t seem to have the same order as the rest of the house, but I suspect it’s because every book I write is a different process (and I love that) but it means I can’t get into a rhythm of ‘this sits here’ etc.  I’ve given up worrying about it.

What is your favourite form of procrastination?      As mentioned above, there are things I do that are part of my writing process (washing clothes, gardening, watering, cooking).  But if I start sleeping a lot more than usual (the odd creative nap is fine) then I know there’s something not-right.  When I’m stuck with a project or just dreading a section of it, I can get mentally tired, and often don’t realise I’m procrastinating until I’m falling into bed at 7pm and thinking, “Wait a minute, didn’t I sleep for two hours this afternoon?”  The way I fix it is to confront the problem, call in help from my crit buddy or other members of my Bianchin’s Babes writing group, and get over the hump. That’s what your writing buddies are for, so you don’t have to tackle the hard stuff alone.


My Shadow Through Time trilogy has just be re-released Internationally as eBooks by Pan Macmillan’s digital imprint Momentum Books.  They are:

Destiny of the Light     Daughter of the Dark     Glimmer in the Maelstrom

and they are available where all good eBooks are sold.

Great post, Louise. Thank you.

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  1. Great interview, Ladies. Louise, the time management system sounds really interesting I’m going to have a look into that. Managing procrastination techniques is always tricky and the internet is a horror for it.

  2. Thanks for dropping in, Kylie. I love the Pomodoro technique because it’s so darned easy. You get into a rhythm with it and it segments work-time which makes it easier to finish something (tweeting, FB, emails) and start something new (writing!). Doesn’t work every day, but it does work most days.

  3. Fantastic interview and loved all your insight Lou. I’m often just going to bed when you get up 🙂 I’ve never heard of the Pomodoro technique – so does this mean you move around/have a break every 25 minutes? I set the clock this morning to write for 30 min and found an hour later I was glued to the chair because I couldn’t stop writing – how do you get around this when you are on a roll?

    You live in a perfect spot – sounds gorgeous 🙂 You’ve doubled your wordcount – impressive! Do you think that’s because you have a view of the sea or because you get to walk by the sea every day as I do, or something else entirely?

    When you commit to writing 4-8 hours a day on a new draft – how do you factor in other commitments like MS assessments and mentoring?

    It was a relief to hear about your writing space and I’ve been beating myself up as the rest of my house is clean and tidy too – yet my office and desk never stays tidy for more than an hour. It always looks like a bomb has hit it. I have paper and folders all over the floor, post it notes everywhere, notepads, diaries, coffee cups, pictures that inspire me and lots of paper with scribbled notes – I feel guilty for such mess but I don’t feel so bad now – maybe I should just let it go 🙂

    Thanks again for sharing ‘your day in the writing life’ Loved it and very inspiring ♥

  4. adinawest

     /  July 6, 2012

    Lovely hearing how living near the ocean has doubled your creativity! Sounds like the move there was a wise one for you.

    So, add beach house to my writing wish list…



  5. Hey Michele, lovely to see you here! I stop when the alarm goes at 25 mins and get up and walk to the deck and look at the ocean if I don’t want to go and make a coffee. The break away feels like a wrench when you’re ‘in the zone’ but it keeps me fresh for longer instead of burning out after 3hrs.

    I don’t do assessments when I’m writing draft, so I block out a period of months and don’t take any then. Am coming up to a stopping point at the end of July in fact 🙂 when I’ll be concentrating on my own writing again. I can edit between assessments but for first draft I need a clear head with only my story inside it and not anyone else’s!

    And the desk mess is a common thing for writers. I think we do it deliberately. I don’t feel comfortable with a tidy desk. So maybe instead of mess we should be calling it ‘creative arrangement’.

  6. Adina, I think a beach house is a must for writers, even if you only go there to write draft! Most definitely add that to your ToBuy list.

  7. Cath Evans

     /  July 6, 2012

    Hi Louise,
    Great interview, I really enjoyed it. I loev seeing other people’s processes.

    How interesting that you block time just to write. I’ve found I have to do my first draft the same way – free of other distractions and get it out quickly before it’s gone. If I edit while I’m writing – creativity fizzles. Even if it’s editing that story. I think my left brain/right brain are not well entwined!

    Glad I’m not alone there!


    • Hey Cath, thanks for dropping by. I think there are a few of us (mostly pansters) who need to write fast with few distractions. And I can’t tell you how many years it took me to stop editing along the way. That wretched internal critic! I visualise him with a gag on nowadays 🙂

      Seriously though, I think we’re really lucky to have that time to write uninterrupted. Most writers don’t have that luxury, and I’m full of admiration for those who can multi-task and still keep the story front of mind.

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  9. Very inspiring interview. I’m all motivated to get back to work writing now! Thanks 🙂

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