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“The best ideas come when I’m not looking for them.”

Sarah Moss, Author ⎜Schriftstellerin

What does a normal or ideal working day look like for you, what kind of rhythm do you have? Do you have regular working hours or do they vary from day to day?
Ideally, I wake well-rested, go for a long run, shower, take breakfast and coffee to my desk, write all morning, break for lunch alone with a book, read/ write/ plan, meet a friend for coffee or a walk, go to a yoga class, eat dinner with my family and a visiting friend or two, go to bed and read something not directly work-related.
Normally I wake early, go for a long run, shower, take breakfast and coffee to my desk, deal with urgent and/or important email, write or teach, deal with email, write or teach, deal with email, eat lunch with colleagues or family, deal with email, write or teach, deal with email, flip inefficiently between domestic and work admin, email and trying to write, spend an hour cooking dinner while also making kids’ lunches, doing housework and managing a building project, eat, do more housework, watch Netflix with my husband, go to bed and read something urgent and work-related.


How many hours per day do you work on average (writing, painting, practicing, composing)?
2-5 hours? I also have a university job.


How many hours do you add on average for ‘background work’ and everything else (research, office stuff, acquisition, website, social media)? How do you find the balance between all the tasks you have to keep track of as a free artist?
I have no idea how to count this! I think the only time I spend definitely not working is asleep, running and doing yoga.


Are there weekends for you? What does free time mean?
Not really weekends. I’m juggling university and freelance work, and frankly sometimes I’d rather be in my study with my books than with my husband and teenagers. I make sure that I run, do yoga and eat dinner with my family every day. At weekends I also try to do something with my husband, even if it’s just a walk or gardening, see friends and go the theatre or cinema, but I write and prepare teaching in between.


What is the biggest threat to your artistic work, what do you get distracted by?
I think of it more as weaving activities together than being distracted. There are lots of things I have to do, for my family, for the university, for art, for freelance income, and the central work is to interweave them so that everything happens. I’ve been doing it for 20 years and mostly everything does happen. When I have to compromise, it’s sleep, university admin and housework that go.


Do you have strategies to protect yourself from distractions?
See above!


What is your working environment like, what is essential for you? For example, do you need absolute silence – and if so, where and how do you find it?
Writing is very portable and my writing career has overlapped exactly with my motherhood and academic career. I can’t be precious about my working environment. If I have an hour or more, I write; if I have less than an hour, I do whatever might stop me writing next time I have more than an hour. I can write on trains, planes, cafes, hospital waiting rooms, even buses. I hate sitting in a chair at a desk, it feels constrained and uncomfortable, so if I can stand to write or sit on the floor or on a gym ball, I can concentrate better for longer. I have to be able to see outside, not just for writing but always.


When and where does the most important part of your work happen, where do you find the greatest inspiration? At work at your desk or by chance – reading, relaxing, travelling, interacting with other people?
Usually when travelling alone, but the biggest and best ideas come when I’m not looking for them. Between books I cultivate a state of unfocussed alertness, not ‘looking for ideas’ but open to the world and its patterns. Museums and galleries and films are often starting points.


How often or easily do you get into a creative ‘flow’, and what helps you most to reach this state?
I think there’s always something flowing, it’s just that I can’t always give that flow my full attention because of having a family and a body and a job. But I always know it’s there, and it’s not hard to immerse myself in it when time allows.


What do you do when nothing works out – when ideas or success fail to materialise, or when you don’t succeed in what you set out to do?
I see creative failure as a huge part of my process. I wouldn’t say I welcome it, but I often invite it or dance with it, and I don’t mind when it comes. How else to find one’s limits and surpass them?


What helps you when your self-confidence is down (e.g. because of bad reviews, financial downturn, bad mood, personal worries)?
Not eating and over-exercising… More constructively, talking to friends, being outside, going to the theatre or cinema.


Do you reward yourself when you have achieved something, reached a certain goal?
No. It doesn’t feel personal – if something works well it’s because I tried a thing that worked, or found one.


Do you rely on the advice of others or on advice literature? Are there any books that have helped you to find courage on your artistic path?
All the books I’ve ever read! No, I don’t read advice literature.


How much does the recognition of your art by others mean to you? What is the best form of recognition?
I enjoy it much more than I should! Good reviews are very cheering, especially when the reviewer has understood exactly what I was attempting. And strong sales are reassuring as a sign that my career is safe for now.


What are you afraid of?
Becoming irrelevant. Not getting another book contract. Being cancelled.