Five Quick Questions with Nalini Singh

Novelist Nalini Singh answers our five quick questions. She will be teaching at thenalini upcoming Kāpiti Writers’ Retreat, 3-5 March.

Did you intend to write romance and in series form? Where does the inspiration for your work come from?

I love the hope inherent in romance. It’s such a huge genre and encompasses stories that go from the light, bubbly end of the spectrum to the dark and painfully emotional, but there’s always that hope.

I mostly write in the paranormal romance/urban fantasy subgenres and that’s a really good fit for me, because I’ve always loved sf/fantasy and mystery stories alongside romances. PNR/UF allows me to meld all those genres, and to create these big sprawling worlds full of intricate layers.

Writing series was a very natural progression. Series have always been one of my great reading loves–as a teen, when I read stand-alone books, I’d make up my own mental stories about what happened next. I love following characters and worlds over a long period of time.

As for inspiration, I believe in being open to what the universe has to show me. A story can be inspired by something I see or smell or hear or read in a newspaper even. There’s no rhyme or reason to it. The other day, I read a fact online and boom, off went my brain and I quickly noted down the story idea.

What kind of freedoms and limitations does the paranormal provide?  

There is a huge amount of freedom in the paranormal subgenre. I can go wherever my imagination takes me so long as I follow the rules of the world I’ve created. The latter is critical in crafting a strong, cohesive world and characters who’ll stand the test of time. Continuity can make or break a series.

You have written over 30 books. What keeps you going and do you have a particular routine that you follow?

I love writing. Deeply, passionately, madly. I wrote even when no one else was reading my stories–and it’s still what I do in my spare time. It remains a hobby as well as my profession. So the drive comes from within.

In terms of meeting deadlines and staying on track, I make up a schedule for myself for each book, so I don’t end up rushing. I like to work at a steady pace. But I’m not really strict about the structure of each particular day – as long as the work gets done, it doesn’t matter if it’s in the morning, or if it’s in the evening.

I also work on two projects at a time these days. I try to make sure that they’re two different types of projects (a contemporary story and a paranormal story, for example) at two different stages (e,g., first draft vs. third-draft edit). This keeps my mind fresh–so rather than fruitlessly grinding away at a chapter if it’s just not working, I’ll switch projects to give my brain room to breathe, and then, when I go back to the chapter, I’m usually much more enthused and may even have thought up a better way to approach it.

These days, I’m also trying to be much more disciplined in the time I spend online. No checking emails all through the day–it’s amazing how much time that frees up!

What do you see as critical to be able to make a living from writing? (I’m assuming that you do)

Yes, I’ve been a full-time writer for a number of years. I think self-discipline and being professional are critical. My publishers schedule my books almost a year in advance because they know I’ll deliver the project on time–and if something unexpected comes up that will make me late, I let them know as quickly as possible.

Professionalism goes beyond dealing with publishers, however. It’s how I, as an author, interact with my readers, my peers, others in the industry. I always try to be positive in my interactions with people because I love the publishing industry and I want it to be a thriving, positive place for readers and writers. (Also, why waste life being negative?!)

And professionalism also means being aware of the industry. There’s a lot of change going on in publishing at the moment–it’s important to keep up with that, to understand what that means in terms of the options available to you, and how those options might not always stay the same.

As for the self-discipline aspect of things, in the end, that comes down to turning up at the keyboard (or the notepad) when I’ve said I will and putting in the work. The first book of mine that was ever published, I wrote while working in a very demanding job. I used to write late at night and even on my bus commute, and I pretty much gave up TV.

I know of another writer who wrote her first published book by getting up at 5 am, an hour before her young children woke. That was the only time she had to write in the day, but she got up every single day and she used that hour.

It’s all about making a promise to yourself and your writing, and keeping that promise. I always tell people who are struggling to find time, to try to find fifteen minutes. Just fifteen. Then turn up for those fifteen minutes every day of the week. Because it doesn’t matter how great your ideas if you’re not putting down the words to give those ideas form and shape.

Tell us a bit more about your workshop. What should people expect?

I’m a very interactive workshop teacher, so they shouldn’t expect a really long speech. I like to work with the needs/interests of the attendees, and I like it when people ask questions that have us digging deeper into a topic.

Having said that, this is a very practical workshop, so while any discussion of writing will always include the joy of creativity, this particular workshop will be focused on the hard work it takes to edit your work to be the best it can be.

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