On this episode of A Day in the Life we Summer 2015 grad Anna Urquhard. She is a fiction writer from Schaefferstown, PA. She is one busy woman with many writing and English-related jobs. She also has the dream of most writers, I think: a small writing house separate from her home. (I am extremely jealous). It was great to hear from Anna and learn more about her daily routine and writing process.
Now let’s hear from Anna
When did you graduate?
Summer 2015 – in Greece
What genre do you write?
Where do you live?
Schaefferstown, PA – a teeny town plopped in the middle of Amish country
What are your favorite books?
If I may, I’m going to define “favorite” as books that stick in my head as pivotal in my development as a reader and a writer. Therefore:
- Foster by Claire Keegan
- Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
- Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
- Mystery and Manners by Flannery O’Connor
- White Dog Fell from the Sky by Eleanor Morse
- Death of a Naturalist by Seamus Heaney
- Til We Have Faces by C. S. Lewis
- Alone with All that Could Happen by David Jauss
- And so so so many others . . . . (this is kinda like asking which of my children is my favorite)
Do you hold a full-time job other than writing?
Oh, yes. Several.
What do you do?
I’m a mom.
I’m a guidance counselor & academic chair at a private school. (I also teach 2 AP English classes and Intro to Psychology.)
I’m an adjunct literature prof at a local college.
I am a free-lance writer/editor (in all my spare time)
What part of writing do you like the most?
Editing & Revision – the challenge of reworking and reshaping story and language inspires me (almost) every time.
Do you work with an outline or just wing it?
Both. I start with an outline, and write most of my first draft following that outline. Of course, there are times while writing that first draft where I see the story needs to go elsewhere, so I’m not 100% true to my outline. Then, of course, in revision the story nearly always veers off and goes wherever it wants—which is its prerogative.
Do you ever experience writer’s block?
No. I experience Writer’s Detour. There are times where I come up against something in my novel or story that I don’t know how to solve. I get stuck, and my brain just needs time to ruminate and find a solution. So I will walk away (at times for days or weeks) and work on something else, read something else, etc. Eventually my brain will untangle the knot, solve the problem, and I can get back to work.
Do you listen to music while writing- if so, what kind?
Yes, typically instrumental. (Nothing with words or I’m likely to start singing along.) I like a lot of movie soundtracks (hello, Hans Zimmer) and a current favorite is the group Balmorhea.
What do you do when you’re not writing?
Raise my kids.
Sing. (Right now my kids and I are on a Hamilton kick.)
Write lyrics/poetry. (I guess that’s writing, too.)
Run on my treadmill.
Binge-watch my show-of-the-moment on Netflix.
Can you tell us about an upcoming project?
No. I’m in the final stages of revising my novel and will start querying agents come January. I have an idea for my next novel, but don’t want to get ahead of myself. So I’m gonna keep that to myself for now.
Where can we find your work?
My historical novella A Silent Night was published in A Pioneer Christmas Collection put out by Barbour Publishing in 2013, and re-released in 2015. That’s available on Amazon.
My website: http://www.annaurquhart.com
And I have a slew of articles published in Fine Living Lancaster magazine, also available online. My 2 favorite travel pieces I wrote for Fine Living were published with stunning photography by Kevin McIntyre and Joey Pizzolato – both pieces based on places I visited while on a Spalding residency (Czech Republic & Greece).
What does your daily schedule look like?
During the week, I have very little time to write – unless I snatch some time during my work day or stay up late at night. (But I’m up at 5:45 every day for work, so late nights are no longer my friend.) Essentially, weekends are for writing. Saturdays specifically are my writing day. I put that on my calendar and unless there is a shockingly good reason for me to cancel my writing day, it is my standing appointment—of course, if I do have to “cancel” my writing, I reschedule for a different time during the week. (I’ve even taken off work so I can make up that time.)
I get up around 7:30 or 8 (depending on how late my kids let me sleep.) Get coffee, get my laptop and writing accoutrements (notes, books, research, etc) and head out to my writing house—which is a small, stone building separate from our main house that is a converted blacksmith’s shop from the 1790s. This is where all of my books live, along with pictures from my travels, and other things that are meaningful to my artist-self.
I’m wearing comfy clothes, leggings and a big sweater or sweatshirt or something along those lines. There’s nothing specific that I have to wear when I write as long as I’m comfortable and warm.
I then park myself at my desk and get to work. I may light candles. I may turn on music. All technology that makes noise is shut off. No texts, no Instragram or Faceboook. Just me, my coffee, and my characters. For the past year I have been revising my novel, so I will set a goal each time I write to revise a certain amount of chapters for the day—3 chapters was usually my (lofty) goal for a full day of writing. However, depending on the snags in a chapter, my goal may be just to get through 1 chapter. I didn’t always hit my goal, but I’ve learned not to beat myself up over that. I get done what I can get done.
Usually around 4 or 5 o’clock I’m tapped out. My brain starts to blur and I can no longer tell a beautiful sentence from a butchered one. So I will either move to the couch and read (a novel or, if I’m in the middle of revision as I have been, I’ll read poetry) or watch a movie (usually something historical) or crank up some music and sing (I LOVE singing show tunes.) At times I’ll run on my treadmill.
How do you procrastinate?
If I’m procrastinating, then I’ll do all of those things—read, sing, run, watch movies—before I get started on writing. Procrastinating happens occasionally, depending on how chaotic my life has been or how much of a Writing Detour I need to take at the moment. But I’m pretty driven, intrinsically motivated, and goal-oriented, so I don’t wallow in procrastination too much or too long.
What advice would you give someone looking for a more productive routine?
I would say figure out what works for you and stick to it. Create a “habit” of writing. Put it on your calendar (if you have one; if you don’t have one, maybe get one). Each week may look different—and that’s okay, just make sure you schedule your writing somewhere. My mom always used to tell me, “You always have time for the things you put first.” And it’s true. If you want to write, it’s something that you need to put at the top of your priority list. That may mean saying “no” to things or reprioritizing. But if I can find time to write, anyone can find time to write.
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Mackenzie Jervis is a Summer 2016 Graduate. She lives in Texas with her husband, two cats, puppy, and son. She’s traveled to 65 countries solo, now taking the baby along. She blogs about family travel at A Wandering Scribbler while writing novels and binge-watching British TV.