“I generally just write novels and I visualize the whole chapter before I start, so I definitely know where it will end.”
ANITA HUGHES is the author of more than a dozen novels and is working on her next.
Meredith: How do you find that a work of your takes shape? Does form follow idea? Or does idea follow form? Or is it a process that gets worked out in the writing, waiting, reflecting, pondering? Are you a let-it-be type of writer, or a shape-it, form-it, make-this-thing-work kind of one?
ANITA: I start with a location – I love to set my novels in gorgeous locations: Laguna Beach, San Francisco, Lake Como, because I feel like I am there while I am writing it. Then I spend some time visualizing the locations, seeing the streets and houses in my mind. After that I think of a problem and let that sit for a while. Lastly, I create my characters. I love strong women and great female friendships so my heroine always has to have someone she can turn to in good and bad times.
Meredith: We all seem to have rules we are attached to—whether they actually work for us or not is another story. What is it about rules that make us feel like we are doing something correctly? Why, once we set up rules does it seem we need to break them to set ourselves free?
ANITA: I think rules give us structure and structure is important in writing. I try to write at least 1,000 words every day. I also revise the day’s work at least twice before I go onto a new section. I have a trick of emailing myself the work and reading it on my phone. Reading it in a different format makes me more removed from what I’m writing and thus more objective. I find I catch things I don’t see if I just keep revising on my computer. I seldom break my own rules – though I do take a day off now and then because I just want to go for a walk or see a movie or read something I’ve really wanted to read.
Meredith: Writing—or the dream of calling oneself an author or writer—seems, for many, to have this highly addictive, seductiveness about it. Like: I’d really be someone if I could write. Or be a writer, author, etc. But it’s not writing that imbues itself with these characteristics, it’s the person. Why, do you think, it’s such a seductive slope?
ANITA: I’m not sure. I have been a mother for most of my adult life (I have five children) so I was happy with that title for a long time. I wrote a lot when I was young and when I was getting my Masters at UC Berkeley but I put it away to raise my children. When I decided to write it was really because a paragraph popped into my head that I had to write down. From there it became a whole novel and I so enjoyed writing it, I kept going. I love writing – it gives me energy and I really like getting to know my characters.
Meredith: Tell me how you move through a big project when life’s personal details are distracting, sad, anxiety producing or otherwise?
ANITA: Personal life can definitely get in the way, but I generally find there is enough time to write a little bit each day. Even if you write a little, it gives you incentive to go back the next day and pick up where you left off. I find I miss my characters if I’m gone too long, and so I make time for them. Sometimes anxiety or problems in real life work well in terms of writing a novel. Writing can be a great escape from dealing with problems in life you can’t solve.
Meredith: When you’re in love with a particular idea so much, how do you know when enough is enough—for example, words in a sentence, a line in an essay, chapter in a book?
ANITA: I generally just write novels and I visualize the whole chapter before I start, so I definitely know where it will end. I try to write with a rhythm and I like the chapter to end on a dramatic note – making the reader want to turn the page and start the next one!
Anita grew up in Sydney, Australia and at the age of eight won a national writing contest in THE AUSTRALIAN Newspaper and was named “One of Australia’s Next Best Writers.” When I asked her about one thing about herself that she doesn’t typically get to squeeze into conversation, she said it’s that she loves frozen yoghurt. “I first discovered frozen yoghurt at a wonderful place called Yoghurt Park when I was a student at UC Berkeley. I have been addicted ever since. Now I live in Southern California, near the beach, and it is wonderful to eat frozen yoghurt and watch the waves.”