Backspace Writers Conference

Question of the Month: Holing Up

by Susan Henderson on May 7, 2012

Talk to me about how you free up time and emotional space for your work, how you say no to distractions, requests, and so on when you really need to focus.

I was going to show a little snapshot of my work-in-progress—my pinboard full of drawings and sticky notes, the stacks and stacks of research books, the 150 single-spaced pages that make up the book so far—but as many of you tease me about all the time, I’m just not one who likes to talk about my work until it’s done. So rather than sharing a photo of my work, I’ve shared some of Joseph Campbell‘s (notes we came across as we were cleaning out his Greenwich apartment). I’m fascinated by works-in-progress and seeing a person’s thought process. I like how organized and balanced Joe’s ideas are, and I like the little arrows on this next one…

My New Year’s resolution was to have a first draft of my book by the time my boys were out of school for the summer. I suppose that’s still possible, but I’m not going to rush it. I want to get this right. I want to get it as close as possible to how the story looks in my imagination. (Do you know what I mean? You know how our ideas seem amazing and bigger than life until we start to scribble them down?) So I was well on my way to meeting my deadline when a fabulous new idea gripped me, and it’s taking some effort to really explore it and rework the shape of the book to include it. I need all the time and focus I can get that doesn’t belong to my family, and this means I have to be disciplined about not adding any more to my plate.

I suspect many of you struggle with this same problem. Each month I get hundreds of requests to read new books, provide blurbs, submit essays to anthologies, edit this, promote that, speak here, introduce this person to that person, write a letter of recommendation or a proposal, and so on.  There are only so many hours in any given week, and it’s easy to carve it up and give it away thirty minutes at a time. Pretty soon, you’ve given away any time you meant to devote to writing your book, and if you’re not careful, any more favors you say yes to will have to cut into your family time.

I’d love to hear what works for you. How do you keep out the distractions when you need to focus? And how are you doing on those goals you set back in January?


I hope to see many of you this month at the Backspace Writers Conference (I said yes to this commitment many months ago). I’ll be on two panels (one literary fiction panel and one mystery panel) and then I’m staying through cocktail hour. The Backspace Conference is a great meeting of writers, agents and editors with all kinds of practical advice. If you’ve never been before, I hope you’ll consider attending. Friday, May 25th at theRadisson Martinique (32nd and Broadway) in New York City.

A few thank you’s… Thanks, as always, to those who’ve reviewed UP FROM THE BLUE at Amazon and GoodReads, and to those who ordered the new audiobook. Thanks as well to these bloggers for reviewing the Norwegian and Dutch editions of the book: Les Mye (Read Much), Bokanmeldelser, Bieb Blog Vlissingen (Flushing Library Blog), and Ly Books (Read a Book). Your words mean so much to me (and I get such a kick out of how Google translates them)!

One last note… On Wednesday, Mr. H and I will have been married for 20 years, and for 25 years he’s been my best friend. We’re not big on celebrations in our family, so the most we’ll do to celebrate is go out for dinner. But what I really like are the ordinary days—hearing about his day, going for walks, sharing a cup of coffee, working in the yard together, laughing, calling the dogs up on the bed, and just enjoying the company.