Heather O'Neill

July 2014

with Meaghan Strimas


HLR: How do you schedule time to write? 

HO: I write from about eight in the morning to until about six. Then I usually write later in the evening, but less productively. It’s probably better just to stop and read books and have fun after six. But I’m a workaholic, so I usually go back to the notebooks. If I write for like sixteen hours a day, my writing starts to be of the Jack is a Dull Boy variety. There is a way to procrastinate while actually putting words on the page. It can be pernicious. (I try to get myself deadlines; otherwise I do some very strange things with time.)

HLR: What obstacles (real and imagined) make it a challenge for you to find time to write, and how have you dealt with them?

HO: Raising a kid took up loads of time. I used to wonder whether I would have achieved more if I’d been able to focus exclusively on myself and my career when I was in my twenties. (Most of my friends tell me not to worry, that they spent their twenties drinking and dancing on tables and not working on their opuses either.) Now that she’s 19, I feel like I’ve won the lottery time-wise. 

But it’s so rewarding and wonderful having a kid that it was worth it. Now she works as my assistant to make up for forcing me to read her all the Lemony Snicket novels back-to-back and cutting my manuscripts into hearts with safety scissors.

HLR: Do you find you work better when your schedule is clear, or when you are pressed to find time?

HO: My schedule is always clear. All I do is write. I do juggle a lot of writing assignments. I like taking on more work than I can handle. It makes me feel like I’m a character in an HBO TV series. Like I am getting closer to solving the case. 

Heather O’Neill is the author of the novel Lullabies for Little Criminals (2006) which won the Canada Reads competition and the Hugh McLennan Prize for Fiction and was short-listed for the Orange Prize and the Governor General Award. She has written for numerous publications including The New York Times Magazine, This American Life, The Walrus and The Globe and Mail. She has won two Gold prizes for essay writing at the National Magazine Awards. Her new novel is called The Girl Who Was Saturday Night

Follow her on Twitter: @lethal_heroine