What is your most recent writing project, or what is a piece you’ve had published recently?
My debut novel, Rainbirds, is forthcoming in March 2018. It’s a literary mystery with elements of magical realism set in Japan. Rainbirds follows a young man who steps into his sister’s old life as he struggles with her unsolved murder.
What’s your favorite thing someone else has said about your writing?
My Curtis Brown Creative tutor, Chris Wakling, once told me, “Your writing somehow reads like a translation.” I remember asking, “Oh, is it that bad?” At that time, I had just started writing seriously. I was constantly worried that my English was not good enough. But he said, “I didn’t mean it in a negative way. It’s actually refreshing and suits the kind of story you’re telling.”
Before then, I’d always seen my non-native English speaker status as my major weakness. But his words made me realize perhaps, it is actually one of my strengths—my sparse writing and simple vocabulary give a unique color to my narrative.
What is one craft or writing book you love?
Stephen King’s On Writing. I highly recommend it to all aspiring writers. I love how honest he is with his early struggles and I admire his dedication to the writing life. His editing tips are gold.
Who is one other writer you’re excited about right now?
Mira T. Lee. Her debut novel, Everything Here Is Beautiful, has just been released on January 16th. I’m still waiting for my copy, but a lot of trusted sources told me it’s good.
What’s the worst piece of writing advice you’ve ever gotten? What’s the best?
Worst advice: When I just started writing and asked for feedback, a more experienced writer told me, “I think you should stick to writing in Chinese.” She didn’t think my English was good enough. Good thing I ignored her advice. (For the record, I can’t speak, read, or write in Chinese. My mother tongue is Indonesian.)
Best advice: Read a lot, and write a lot—courtesy of Stephen King.
Do you have a dedicated work space? Do you write in your home or do you prefer to write elsewhere? Can you write while traveling?
I’m a flexible person. Anywhere is fine—at home, at the coffee shops, at the libraries—as long as I’ve got my laptop. I’m using a MacBook Air so it’s pretty mobile. I have some sort of a work/study area at home, but I’m sharing it with my husband and my daughters. First come first served.
I have to confess I can’t write while traveling. I’m one of those people who love to explore from dawn to dusk.
What are some of your writing habits?
I write whenever I have the time. As a mother of three young children, this translates to either when all of them are in school or when they’re sleeping. I used to write every single day (yes, even on Christmas) but recently I wanted to have a better work/life balance, so I limit myself to writing only on weekdays.
When you are sitting down to write, what is the first thing you do?
Usually, I just sit down and write. But because my pub date is approaching, I now make a point to check my email first. I don’t want to miss out on important notes from my agent or publishers.
How do you pay the bills/financially support yourself?
I’m a full-time writer. My husband picks up the tab for the household expenses (lucky me!), so my income is mainly used for the nice, fun extras. I also have some investments that generate passive income.
When in your life have you felt your work/life balance to be most in sync? When in your life have you felt the most out of sync?
I do feel like now is the best I’ve ever achieved in terms of work/life balance. I only work when my kids are in school or sleeping. I spend the rest of my time with them. Whenever they need me, I’m around.
I used to work as a personal banker. I enjoyed doing financial analysis, but I didn’t like the overall competitiveness of the industry and never miss the long working hours.
What are the most pressing demands for your time, energy, labor (including emotional labor)? What has worked best for you in terms of balancing those demands with writing?
My children are still young so they require a lot of my time. It can be exhausting at times, but it’s a rewarding experience. The girls are everything to me.
I tried working when my kids were around, but I couldn’t concentrate. The current arrangement of working only when they’re in school or sleeping seems to be the ideal choice for us.
What are the ideal conditions for your creativity?
When my kids are not around? Haha. I also find it hard to focus when I’m feeling too hot or too cold, so I usually find places with fan or air-conditioner or natural breeze and bring a cardigan everywhere.
Do you have any writing rituals? Or any non-writing rituals that feed your writing life?
I can’t write hungry, so I usually eat before I write. Or at least, get a glass of juice. I love freshly squeezed orange juice in the morning.
What self-care practices do you have and what, if any, routines do you have surrounding them? How does self-care relate to your writing life?
Being a full-time writer, I’m essentially a self-employed person. I don’t have any annual leave. It’s very easy to work all year round, but there is a real danger of getting burned out. Starting last year, I try to take an overseas holiday at least once or twice a year. I also make my booking early—about six to eight months in advance—so I won’t have the chance to cancel it.
Clarissa Goenawan is an Indonesian-born Singaporean writer. Her award-winning short fiction has appeared in literary magazines and anthologies in Singapore, Australia, the UK, and the US. Rainbirds is her first novel.
Contact & Social: http://www.clarissagoenawan.com
https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/16100168.Clarissa_Goenawan (Goodreads) @clarissagoenawan (Facebook), @clarissagoenawan (Instagram), @ClaireClaire05 (Twitter),