A Day in the Writing Life of … Cathryn Hein

Today on a Day in the Writing Life we welcome, Cathryn Hein, who writes Australian romantic fiction. Over to Cathryn.

Hi everyone and thanks for hosting me on the blog today.

What time of the day do you write?     Definitely morning. I usually start around 7am and work until around 3pm, but I’m most productive first thing. Everything feels fresher in the morning.

Are you a plotter / planner or a pantser?     I started out as a complete pantser but with each book I’ve refined the process and now plot quite a bit. I don’t plot everything out, though. I find the thrill of discovery keeps the excitement going.

Although I’ve tried to break the habit I can’t stop editing as I write. It’s as if I can’t move on until the previous chapter is as perfect as I can make it at that point in time. The upside of the system is that my first drafts are extremely clean and usually only need a light run through to fix niggly things before they’re ready to send. The downside is that it’s not a very efficient way to work. At least, it doesn’t seem to be.

Do you use whiteboards, posters, visual aids to help in your creativity?     I would be lost without my whiteboards. I have three, each with a specific purpose, but the most important is my cheat-sheet whiteboard. It has all the characters listed with a brief description of each, plus animal and place names and anything important about them. It also tends to get smothered in sticky-note edit reminders and comments.

I also have my precious ‘bibles’ which are 120 page A4-sized notebooks containing all my plot and brainstorming notes, scene drafts, research, title and character names, family trees, pictures of characters and scenery – anything and everything to do with the book. Usually by the time I finish writing I’ll have filled at least two of these.

Do you give yourself any writing rewards for achieving goals?     Not usually. Although there’s an expensive bottle of champagne sitting in my fridge ready for when I finally hit ‘send’ on my current book. I’ll have earned that!

Do you take time out to stretch, rest your eyes etc and if so do you do any exercises at your desk or between sessions?     Not as much as I should and I’ve had days where I’ve paid for my laxity with severe eye and/or wrist strain. But I did recently purchase some tennis balls to bounce around while brainstorming. This may yet prove a mistake. I’m pretty uncoordinated and bound to break something.

Can you name five objects that are always on or near your work desk while you write?     A glass of water. My Macquarie dictionary. A pencil. My diary. Sticky-note pads.

Is your writing space messy, organized or somewhere in between?     In between. There are some days when it’s calm, some days when it’s chaos. The closer I am to finishing a manuscript the worse it gets.

What is your favourite form of procrastination?     Spider Solitaire! I can really zone out on that. I also like to flick through cookbooks pretending that I’m looking for dinner inspiration when really I’m just delaying knuckling down to work.

I have two ways of beating procrastination:

1/. I make lists (with wordcount at #1) and tick off jobs when they’re done. There’s something really satisfying about seeing a list with every item crossed out.

2/. Close all unnecessary programs. If I can’t see it, it can’t distract me.

What’s the last thing do you do before you finish your daily writing session?     Backup my files to multiple locations. The idea of losing work gives me the heebie-jeebies!

Thanks for having me on A Day In The Writing Life. That was fun!

For more information about Cathryn and her books, please visit her website : http://www.cathrynhein.com/ You can also connect via Facebook and Twitter.

Cathryn’s latest release is Heart of the Valley. Out now from Penguin Australia.

Thank you very much for sharing a day in your writing life, Cathryn. We wish you all the best with your new release.

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  1. Hey Cathryn, great insight into your working life. I also write best early in the morning. But maybe that’s the breakfast caffeine. 🙂

    • I suspect caffeine has something to do with it, Janni! Although I suppose it could be those super Vita Brits….

  2. Hi Cathryn. I totally get the editing as you go thing. I can’t show my work to my crit partners until it’s the best I can make it. I love following your Friday Feasts and chatting about food so it’s great to hear about your other passion.

    • I sometimes wish I could cease with this editing-as-I-go business, Louise, because it’s so annoyingly time consuming. Bar writing perfect scenes first go, which isn’t going to happen for this little black duck any time soon, there has to be a more efficient way. Doesn’t there?

      I do wonder if it’s a form of procrastination. ie that the only reason I agonise over something that is probably perfectly ok is because it saves me having to write something new. I hope that’s not the case, but I do wonder. Where it does work is at the end of the first draft because the manuscript appears so wonderfully ‘booky”.

      And I love seeing you on Friday Feast. You always have the most marvellous foodie ideas!

  3. Kat Laytham

     /  July 20, 2012

    Hi Cathryn,
    Thank you for that. I can’t get going before 10 in the morning and lots of coffee but I am a night-owl and seem to produce best results after lunch or in the evening. I also edit as I go (and not even always chapter by chapter; sometimes paragraph by paragraph!). It is a very slow way to go and sometimes I interrupt my own flow so I have tried so-far-unsuccessfully to change. Anyhow, like you, I’m hoping that means my first draft will be closer to my final draft than it would be otherwise. 🙂

    • Another edit-as-I-go person. I’m starting to not feel so alone!

      That is the best thing about the system, Kat. The first draft is so clean. The downside is that it takes such a long time to get there and can be incredibly frustrating. Sigh.

      Thanks so much for dropping by and commenting.

  4. Cathryn, Louise and Kat, thanks for sharing the edit-as-you-go thing! I do it too and wasted considerable time trying to change it, until my darling beta reader sat me down and said “aren’t you always telling me that there are as many processes as there are writers? So why should you think there’s anything wrong with yours? Stop whinging and finish my next chapter!”

    So I stopped whinging and wrote her chapter. Still trying to get faster, though!

    Lovely to see you here, Cathryn. I love Friday Feast. It’s one of my favourite procrastinations!

    • That’s excellent advice, Imelda. We should pay attention!

      It’s the slowness of it that makes us think it needs changing I reckon. I would sooooo love to write faster. I’m not looking to be Nora (well, it’d be nice but a girl needs to stay a bit real) but a little more output would be wonderful.

      Thanks for the Friday Feast comment. It’s great to hear people are enjoying it because I certainly am! At some point I’m going to make it an even bigger procrastination tool and index all the recipes. One for when I finish my current book.

  5. Careful where you throw those tennis balls!

    Lovely interview 🙂

    • Thanks, Jenny.

      Sadly, I have already proved completely unco with the tennis ball but at least I only managed to tumble unbreakables and not my glass of water. That would have been baaaaaad.

  6. Cathryn,
    Great interview. And I don’t know whether to thank you or shoot you for making me another edit as I go obsessive. Sure makes me write slower, but you’re right. The first draft does look more ‘booky’.
    Think this compulsion we all have to edit, edit, edit, gets worse the more you write. Are we all aiming for perfection? Or just wanting to be another Nora?
    Suzi Love

    • I think you might be right, Suzi. I know my edit obsession is definitely worse now that when I first started. The days of writing without thinking have long gone. Probably a good thing. Those unthinking works were pretty bloody ordinary!

  7. I’m trying to make Out that chair. Is it special or are my eyes playing tricks. I think it is a lovely office. We share the same dictionary. That’s the one I have stopped trying to read!!!!!!!!! Oh and I got the thesaurus verison for my last birthday!!!!!!!!

    • Ahh, ’tis a super special chair, Ms Jenn. It has wings! Actually, it’s a fabulous chair. Cost a small fortune but worth every cent. The back has a split support system and I love it. I bought it from Office Products Depot in Newcastle, along with a fantastic workstation, but I’m not sure if the model is still available. Just tried to look it up and I couldn’t find it in the catalogue. You can try to check here: http://www.officeorg-furniture.com.au/

      A good chair is an absolute must I think. Bit like a good dictionary!

  8. Fabulous interview! Your whiteboard and bibles AWE me!! I always start an exercise book for each book, but mine generally just become pages of scribbles, nothing like your organisation!!

    • I’m not sure I’d call it organisation, Rach. You haven’t seen the state of those ‘bibles’, and my whiteboards at the moment are completely smothered in scribbles and sticky notes. Scary!

  9. Very jealous of your lovely office space, Cathryn!

    Love you stories and your Friday Feasts and great to learn more about your creative process 🙂

    • The workstation made an enormous difference, Helene. I was so glad I bought it. I means I can spread out all my notes and books and gumph instead of littering the floor. And it’s so helpful to be able to glance up and check a white board for a character detail or a wall planner for what’s happening.


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