Butt Meets Chair: Robin Palmer

I’m excited to finally be continuing my “Butt Meets Chair” series. In these interviews, I get to bug fellow YA authors with annoying questions about how they make writing actually happen.

Today, I bring you the lovely Robin Palmer, best known for weaving together fairy tales and timeless themes into books that feel compellingly current, such as “Cindy Ella,” “Geek Charming,” and “Little Miss Red.” She’s also the author of the “Lucy B. Parker” middle grade series. I first met Robin earlier this year when we were both panelists at the Read Local Red Hook festival. As a debut author, I loved being able to talk writing with someone so prolific, and who has such a strong body of work out there. I became an instant fan, really. When I read these answers and saw that we share some of the same challenges and strategies, I realized that no matter how much you’ve written or published, there are some universals when it comes to Putting Words On A Page. Hope you enjoy this as much I did…

How would you describe your writing “routine”?

I write Mondays-Saturdays. When I lived in the city, and didn’t have to be at my office until noon, I would write from 7-11am. Now that I live upstate and have to take the train down three days a week, I get about an hour and a half to write during the ride down, and then if I’m not too exhausted from the day, some more time on the ride back up. But when I’m home Thursdays-Saturdays, I usually write from about 7-11am. When I’m not under the gun, I try and get about 1000 words done; when I am, I aim for 1500. The more books I write (I just finished my tenth one), the more I’m allowing myself to ease up a little and experiment with the routine.

Do you write most of the time in one space? What does it look and feel like?

Other than the train, I write in my house in Germantown (in New York’s Hudson Valley), which is a converted barn with 30 foot ceilings and incredible light. I have an office set up in one of the lofts with a desk, but I’m not a big desk person so I usually end up stretching out on the couch — which is terrible on my back — or sitting at my dining room table. My incredibly talented neighbor made the 10 foot table for me, out of old barn planks from Wisconsin, and there’s something about looking at the craftmanship that inspires me as I write.

When you mix it up with your writing spaces, where do you go?

For a long time I would go to coffee places to write, but now I find them distracting. Unless I’m doing line revisions or going through a copyedit. I like to think I”m one of those people who can adapt to new spaces, but the truth is I’m (sadly) a real creature of habit. Maybe it’s because I’m getting old?

Do you have any rituals that help you transition from life mode into writing mode?

I’ve always done my best writing when I’m still in that hazy, dream-like state, so I try and keep my brain as uncluttered as possible before I sit down. I get up, feed the cats, put on coffee, give a cursory look at my email just to make sure there’s nothing super important, and then start.

Okay, so you’ve finally got the butt in the chair and you’re ready for action. What do you do first?

Ask myself why the Universe decided to inflict me with the disease of writing. And then usually re-read what I wrote the day before so I can get into the rhythm, and then begin.

What do you need to have with you (in the way of snacks, inspiration, tools, etc.) when you write? What do you need to be removed from?

I have my coffee, and my water, and my sugarless peppermint gum which has now replaced the snacks because all those snacks over the course of all those books ended up on my hips. I can’t write with music, unless it’s jazz or classical or ambient — nothing with lyrics — but even that’s distracting most of the time. I also had to start using that Freedom application — the one where you can disable your internet for a set amount of time.

I am a Freedom devotee myself! How do you get past the times when you can’t focus or feel like it’s just “not happening today”?

I used to get really freaked out when I couldn’t focus, as if I had somehow used up all my mojo and that was it, I was done and washed up and would NEVER EVER write again. When that happens now, I try and set a very small manageable goal for myself (ie. 250 words, a half hour, etc.) That way I feel like I’ve exercised my brain and my fingers. I’ve learned over the years that sometimes as much as I don’t want to do it, sometimes if I give myself a break and let myself recharge, the work is that much better the next day. When I’m burnt out and continue to try and write, it’s never good and I usually end up making more of a mess.

What distracts you when you’ve got your butt in the chair?

My brain. And Facebook. And the comparing and despairing that accompanies Facebook. And reading that someone just wrote 2000 words. Hence, the Freedom app.

What’s your totally weird writing “eccentricity”?

I’m sure I have a lot, but the one that comes to mind is that when I was writing my first book, my lucky charms were this black wool beret and a pair of Chanel motorcycle boots. I wore them every day and I swear they worked.

***

Here’s where I glance at my faux fur-trimmed down slippers and wonder if I need to change up my writing footwear. Sigh. I don’t think I’ll ever be as cool as Robin, but I feel cool just enjoying her coolness. I’m so thankful she shared all this! Robin’s most recent book is “Wicked Jealous: A Love Story”; you can visit her online at www.robinpalmeronline.com.

Done, for now

SNAP. September went like that. I last posted in August, right before I was diagnosed with Lyme Disease and my brain hurt to even think about writing, let alone do it. But I did it anyway, and summer turned into early fall and I kept revising and accomplished little else, except taking a lot of Doxycycline. Now “You Look Different In Real Life” is, for all intents and purposes, completed. It will be out on June 4, 2013.

It doesn’t feel quite real yet. When you’ve spent over a year with certain characters and their world, it’s hard to let go. It’s hard not to think about what they’ll do next, or tell them to shut the F up when they keep talking to you. It’s nearly impossible to believe you accomplished everything you set out to do with them, even when your editor and agent and early readers are telling you that yes, you did, and that you should be damn proud. Why is it so hard for me to be proud, and relax, and even, dare I even mention the word, CELEBRATE?

There were times in the dead of last winter when this book was nearly killing me, when all I did was fantasize about being able to say, “I’m done.” I can say that now, but I can’t enjoy it and I’m not sure why. Am I alone in this kind of thing? God, I hope not.

What I can enjoy and be proud of, in my nerdy way, is what I learned during the process of drafting and revising this time around. I learned a great deal about myself as a person and as an author, and about the different types of writing voices inside me. But I learned even more about crafting a novel in general. With “The Beginning of After,” the revision process was mostly focused on strengthening the core of the story — a kind of Novel Pilates, if you will. With “You Look Different In Real Life,” it was primarily about trimming the fat, keeping the story going at a lean and mean pace. So that would be, what? Novel Weight Watchers? Novel Paleo? All I know is that it was brutal and relentless and felt fantastic, once I stopped my bitching and moaning.

So, October. My favorite month, and not just because it hosts my birthday, my younger daughter’s birthday, my wedding anniversary, and of course, my favorite holiday, Halloween. Leaves are changing color and along with it, my focus. I’ve got a Special Secret Project to dive right into, and then it’s on to the next book.

Maybe I won’t celebrate until June 4, or maybe by then I’ll have a whole new set of things stressing me out and I’ll never take That Moment. Either way, I keep moving forward. Gonna start by taking a walk on this stunning fall day.