Welcome to the third installment of our interview series on authors’ writing and wellness habits! Today’s interviewee is Karen Kaufman Orloff, author of several well-known children’s books, including the I Wanna Iguana series. Karen lives and works in the Hudson Valley, as I do, and I’ve known of her work for years but hadn’t had the pleasure of meeting her in person until she judged an essay contest last May for which I was a finalist. I’ve since learned that Karen is not only a wonderful children’s book author but actively works to promote YA and children’s writing groups, and supports local bookstores. I admire Karen for her commitment to serving the local writing and reading community, and for this reason was eager to hear which habits and wellness tips have served her throughout her career.
What is your keystone habit (the habit that makes all other habits possible)?
This is a hard one. I guess a habit of mine is checking email many times a day! If I’m working on a story and need a break, I’ll go check email (or do something else mindless online, like going to Facebook). I think this helps clear my mind from whatever problem I may have been facing in my manuscript. I then go back to it with fresh eyes. So it’s a bad habit but can also be helpful.
Is there one wellness-related habit you’d never skip?
At the moment, I’ve been going to a gym most mornings, about 3-4 days a week, and doing about an hour of aerobic activity. I don’t like to skip it because I know it’s good for me (although I’d probably rather sleep late.)
What is your daily writing routine?
I’m not much of a routine person, but if I am working on a story, I tend to do it in the morning hours. I’m not always working on a story, however, but I do like to do something writing/career related every day, whether that’s getting in touch with schools to do visits, sending out submissions to editors, sending out promotional emails, or just doing some research online.
What are your essential writing “tools?”
These days it’s my computer. I hardly ever write with pen/paper anymore, although years ago that’s what I did. After awhile I realized I was a faster typer so I started using a typewriter, then computer to write. It just gets my thoughts out onto paper quicker. Never a voice recorder, as I hate the sound of my voice!
Where do you write?
Honestly, mostly in my kitchen, at the counter, sitting on a stool at my computer.
What’s one aspect of your current writing process that you learned the hard way?
I learned to always either make hard copies of my work, or if I’m being lazy, email it to myself. That’s because I’m paranoid that my computer will die and I’ll lose what I’m working on! (I’m terrible at backing stuff up.) I’m sure at some point, this happened and I had to start from scratch for a story I was working on.
Do you have different routines for different parts of the writing process: drafting vs. editing, for example? Do you have a “crop rotation” schedule, or work differently during different seasons of the year?
I like to get a first draft down quickly, even though I know it’s pretty bad. I never let myself be critical. I think this is probably the most important thing for writers. Don’t worry about how something sounds. Just get it down. Then I spend many, many hours editing, re-writing, over and over until I’m happy with it. That’s the longest part of the process. I often do my re-writing on a hard copy, with a pen in hand, and then I’ll type my changes into the computer. I don’t think things change from season to season.
What’s the biggest thing that gets in the way of your writing life?
Just everything else in life! (like family obligations, household chores, paying bills, etc.)
Which would you give up first: writing, sleep, or breakfast?
Definitely breakfast. I hardly eat it anyway.
How do you maintain your mental health during difficult times?
Deep breaths, talking things out with family/friends, trying to clear my mind if I can, but of course, that’s hard!
How do you get into a creative mental space that fosters new ideas?
I’m not sure. Some days or weeks, I am very creative; some not very creative. Everything around me can be inspiration and I never know when that will happen. But sometimes if I’m really stuck for ideas, I’ll look through my big collection of wonderful picture books by my favorite authors and it will generate ideas for my own stuff.
What book, blog or podcast would you recommend to writers who want to develop strong writing and wellness habits?
I hardly look at blogs, but there are some good books on writing out there that I would recommend just for getting your brain focused on writing. Like Anne Lamott’s “Bird By Bird,” a classic for writers which I read many years ago, or Stephen King’s “On Writing.” A really good read for writers.
Karen Kaufman Orloff has written ten books for children, including the popular “I Wanna” books (I WANNA IGUANA, I WANNA NEW ROOM, I WANNA GOHOME). Her most recent book is “Goodnight, Little Bot.” An eleventh picture book, “Some Days: A Flurry of Feelings” will come out in the spring of 2019.