Craft, Career & Cheer: Barbara O’Connor

Learn about Barbara O’Connor.

When and where do you write? Why does that time and space work for you?

I’m a morning person all the way. I love the early morning and am always freshest and most creative then.

Honestly, I don’t think I could write at night if I had to. My mind simply cannot get into the flow of creativity and, like most writers, I certainly can’t force the writing. It has to flow naturally and I have to be in sort of a zen-like state, with a fresh, clear, and energized mind.

I have to have total quiet, which makes things difficult sometimes. I’m easily distracted by noises and movement, etc., in the house when I’m trying to work. The best case scenario is being home completely alone. But I do have family so that doesn’t always happen.

I was working on a book last summer while we were having some walkways and retaining walls installed in the yard. It nearly drove me crazy knowing those workers were out there while I was trying to write. They weren’t even being noisy! (And you can imagine how popular I was with them when I asked them nicely to keep their radios turned way low. Ha!)

As for place, the ultimate dream writing spot for me is on my screened porch in the summer. I love (and am not distracted by) the birds and butterflies. I have honeysuckle on a trellis on the side of the porch, and hummingbirds come often.

But I live in New England and time on the porch is short. During the winter, I retreat to my office inside. I like it there and have a lovely desk that was handmade by a friend, loaded with photos of loved ones and my bird nest collection.

I’m frightfully organized, so that space works well for me because it has all my files and labels and drawers and containers and all the things a frightfully organized person loves. I even have a wonderful vintage wooden “in” box.

If you were writing your recipe for success, how would you proportion out the time and effort you spend researching, writing, marketing manuscripts, dealing with business correspondence, doing online promotion, doing real-space publicity, speaking at events, and/or teaching/critiquing? What about this combination works for you?

Oh, boy….I love this question because I wrestle with this all the time–trying to balance all the stuff necessary for a successful writing career, besides just writing.

In a perfect world, my recipe would be:

1 heaping helping of writing
1 pinch of speaking at events
1 pinch of speaking to kids

Mix and enjoy.

But, of course, this is not a perfect world. Those other ingredients (online promotion, business correspondence, etc) are necessary and important.

It would be wonderful to pay someone to do the things I don’t enjoy and am not good at, but that belongs in that fantasy perfect world, too. So I’m learning that I just have to suck it up and jump in there and do things that need to be done.

I’m trying to stop being so frustrated by having to take time away from writing to do those other things, but I confess that I haven’t exactly mastered this yet and find myself frustrated more often than I’d like.

I’m still working on learning to say “no,” particularly when it comes to events and travel. I do a lot of school visits, which takes up a huge amount of time. So other speaking engagements need to be chosen wisely. I love going to events where I can connect with other writers (like SCBWI conferences) or librarian/teacher conferences where I can make connections and promote books.

Another area that uses up a huge amount of time (and cuts into my writing time) is preparing marketing materials, (like brochures), making sure my website is up to date, blogging, Facebook-ing, tweeting, etc. I try to use shortcuts (like preparing a week’s worth of blogs at one time and setting Blogger to post each day), so that helps. But, still, it does take time.

That being said, the online sites have helped me make wonderful connections with teachers, reading specialists, and other authors, and there is a lot of value in that.

So, that’s a round-about way of saying I haven’t found the perfect recipe yet, but I’m working on it. And I still think that, while marketing is important, the best thing I can do for my career is to write another book. So I try to keep that in focus at all times and remind myself that I’m a writer–and writers write books. (Step away from Facebook, Barbara…)

In your own words, could you tell us about your latest book?

I have a middle grade novel that is literally hot off the press. It’s called The Small Adventure of Popeye and Elvis (Farrar, Straus & Giroux/Frances Foster, 2009).

Popeye is bored. Every day is the same, waking up in the little house on the gravel road in the small town of Fayette, South Carolina. Then one morning everything changes. A shiny silver motor home gets stuck in the mud in the gravel road, sending Elvis and his passel of rowdy siblings into Popeye’s usually uneventful life.

When Elvis convinces Popeye that all they need is a small adventure, the two boys set out to find one. Boats on a creek, a girl with butterfly wings, and mysterious messages all add up to a small adventure that brings big changes to Popeye’s boring world.

The story was inspired by a blog post by Tamra Wight, author of The Three Grumpies, illustrated by Ross Collins (Bloomsbury, 2005).

She posted a photo of a boat her son had made from a Yoohoo drink carton. I loved it!

Cynsational Notes

From Barbara’s site: “The Small Adventure of Popeye and Elvis…has received three starred reviews (Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, and School Library Journal)!”

Watch a book trailer for The Small Adventure of Popeye and Elvis.

The Craft, Career & Cheer series features conversations with children’s-YA book creators about positive aspects of their creative and professional lives.