Olive Senior

August 2014

with Meaghan Strimas


photo: Caroline Forbes

HLR: How do you schedule time to write? 

OS: I didn’t grow up with the notion that one needed “time to write” so all my writing gets done the same as everything else — “when I have 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?

OS: I have always had to work for a living, in a regular job or later as a freelancer so I have never had a writing schedule. That means leaping into any space that presents itself, day or night. My latest book was completed in this fashion — not because I’m a masochist but because I had no funding and decided to do it anyway — which is how I’ve approached all of my writing. (Okay, so I am a masochist ).

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

OS: I must make it clear that I make a distinction between factual, non-fiction work and fiction and poetry (so-called creative work). I find it easier to focus on non-fiction writing while juggling everything else because the research, the facts, the narrative flow, keep me grounded and I am always working towards some sort of deadline, usually self-imposed. With writing that draws on the imagination, I find that I need to be freer of distractions in order to actually get it down on paper. So I try to carve out a few weeks to do so when I feel the material is ready. When I am into that kind of writing, I take myself off to a place where I know nobody because my focus then is absolute and intense. But that is usually at the ending of my work, not the beginning. Much of my “creative” writing takes place in my head — once I have planted the seed of a story or poem my unconscious will continue to work on it with occasional seeding from my conscious mind until I find the time-space to get it down on paper. I know we all have different approaches but the point I want to make is that “waiting for time to write” is not a viable strategy for some of us. For me, writing is not so much about scheduling but about keeping the imagination fed and answering my imperative.

Olive Senior’s fifteenth book has just been published (Dying to Better Themselves: West Indians and the Building of the Panama Canal. University of the West Indies Press, 2014). She also writes fiction, poetry and children’s books. She has won the Commonwealth Writers Prize and been shortlisted for the Governor-General’s Award for poetry. She is on the Humber School for Writers faculty.