Copywriter by day, writer by night
Melanie Jackson is the author of children’s and young adult suspenses. She is heavily involved in the writing community as a member of the Children’s Writers and Illustrators of BC and the Writers’ Union of Canada, as well as a creative writing mentor through the Vancouver School Board. Her newest book, Tick Tock Terror, was published this year from Orca Book Publishers.
Could you describe what you do when you’re not writing?
I work on contract, so make my own hours – usually in the daytime, sometimes in the evening. Writing fiction: almost always first thing in the morning.
I write advertising/marketing copy for clients, including a marketing firm, public relations/media firm, business magazine. I sometimes also do editing work for my former employer, an organization in the public sector.
But if you mean when I’m not writing any type of writing, I like to draw, travel, take long walks, go to the symphony and the theatre, and spend time with my husband, family and friends.
Do you have a writing schedule?
In the morning when I have my coffee. I’ve done this for decades! Depending on what contract assignments await me each day, the time can vary from an hour to two hours.
Do you have a target of how many pages or words you write in a day?
No, it’s more important to me to write something I’m pleased with. So even if I just work on one paragraph and it ends up snappy and catchy and articulate, I’m happy.
I also think a day job, particularly when you’re younger, is good because it opens up another world to you. Writers take inspiration from different settings, formal and informal.
Where do you usually write?
Up in our loft, which my husband calls my atelier.
Do you like to write alone or with a writing group?
Alone for fiction. Though with my characters stepping off the laptop screen and being all around me while I write, I’m not really alone. For marketing writing, I sometimes will work with a client. We bounce wording off each other until we have it just right.
Ideally, what time of the day is the best time for you to write? What do you do when you can’t write at this time?
Morning, as noted. If I have an early-morning event, like a plane flight, I fit time in later. The beauty of writing is that it’s portable, so you can make your own time and space pretty much anywhere.
Do you get inspiration from your day job? Why or why not?
With this work I’m doing now, definitely. There’s a synergy between writing snappy copy and writing snappy, catchy fiction. The aim is the same: to appeal to the audience’s interests, emotions; to write so compellingly that they have to keep on reading.
If you had the option, would you choose to quit your day job and write full time?
I did leave a full-time office job in communications, but not because I felt I wasn’t giving enough time to my fiction writing. Opportunities just came up for working on contract, from home, in a genre I preferred. But the thing about working, full- or part-time, is that you schedule everything. You use your time more efficiently than you do if you don’t work.
I also think a day job, particularly when you’re younger, is good because it opens up another world to you. Writers take inspiration from different settings, formal and informal. Everything informs your writing. I once had a supervisor who popped bubblegum so loudly I could hear it through the wall dividing us. One day I’ll use that in a story. Getting out and meeting people and dealing with personalities empathetic or challenging stimulates your brain.
Plus, your work gives you the satisfaction of completing projects, satisfying bosses and clients and colleagues (if it doesn’t, you need to apply somewhere else).
The other thing is, other work brings in money. The Writers’ Union of Canada has shown via member surveys that fiction writing alone doesn’t bring in a good salary. If you’re happy being the starving artist, go for it. I mean, I’m sure it’s satisfying to plant cabbages in a pot and hungrily watch them sprout. (You may be sensing I don’t take the starving-artist types overly seriously.) Myself, I like to travel and go to the theatre and the symphony and restaurants and not worry about the cost.
What do you do if you fail to follow your writing schedule or don’t get to write as often as you’d like? Does it affect your day/s?
I’m pretty stubborn about making time for fiction writing. Once I’ve got some writing in, I feel I’ve made the day my own.
Between your day job and writing, how do you fit in time with your family/partner/social circle, etc.?
I don’t have a problem with that. That said, when I have a really busy day, one assignment after another, the thing I don’t get to do, which I regret, is go out for a long, very long, walk. That doesn’t happen often. My daughter calls it my Jane Austen thing, where I go out for long treks. And in fact, studies have shown that being out in nature helps you think better.
How long does it typically take you to finish writing a book?
A year, including first draft and edit, edit, edit.
Do you have any other advice on keeping up with writing while juggling a day job?
To me this question presupposes that juggling these is difficult. I never found it difficult. If you need time for something, you make time. I will say that I wish I’d got into marketing writing earlier. It’s a natural fit if you write fiction, for reasons cited above. Check out the Under The Influence podcast episode featuring authors like Salman Rushdie and Dr. Seuss, who got their start in advertising: https://terryoreilly.ca/uncategorized/this-week-on-our-under-the-influence-summer-series-advertising-alumni/
*An earlier version of this post stated Jackson as a mystery writer in Sonoma wine country. The correct bio has been updated.