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A Way with Words: Nalini Singh

Nalini Singh: still wakes up excited to go to work.

Nalini Singh describes her writing day.

I may or may not be writing this while still in my pyjamas. Not being a ­morning person, I’m not sure I’ve brushed my hair, but what I do know is that I get to sit down to a job I’ve dreamt of since I was a child.

When I first started writing seriously, with the aim of one day being published, I had to snatch time for it around studies and exams and then a demanding day job. I used to stay awake deep into the night, when the entire world seemed asleep, and put down the words pushing at my brain.

In the first heady weeks of being a full-time writer, I didn’t know what to do with myself. I had so much time! And weirdly, for someone who is a self-confessed ­obsessive writer, I frittered away that time until suddenly, the deadline was staring me in the face.

Some of my writer friends thrive on the deadline rush, creating ridiculously beautiful works in a manic burst. I am not one of those people. Stress, palpitations, insomnia, that’s me with a tight ­deadline. Which is why I very quickly learnt to manage my time – but for me, that doesn’t mean having a rigid schedule on a daily basis.

Some days, I spend 16 hours at my desk, other days, I spend five. Last night, I worked till 4.30am because the words were flowing and I was desperate to know where the story would go.

This morning, I’m a bit dopey as a result, but after a lifetime of tiptoeing about at night, I’m pretty sure my night-owl ways are set in stone. It’s why I often start my day slowly by checking emails – that, and practicality. I was first published in the US, and my main editor is based in New York. If I don’t check emails till later in the day, I’ll miss connecting with Cindy until the following day.

Once I’ve poked my head into the internet vortex, however, the biggest mission is to get back out. When it comes to writers, the web is both a gift and the worst procrastination tool ever invented. I can research things endlessly, find all kinds of funny, or interesting, or just plain weird articles that spark off a story. I once wrote a short story based around kopi luwak coffee – ridiculously expensive and made from civet droppings. Now you know.

What stops me from procrastination is that I’m a list-maker who loves to cross items off through the day … and because of my deep love of writing.

At this point, I’ve been a full-time writer for a decade and I still wake up each and every day excited to go to work. Even if it is to bang my head against my desk when it takes me an hour to edit a single line and I start to wonder if foible is even a real word.

Nalini Singh was born in Fiji and raised in New Zealand. She’s worked as a lawyer, librarian, bank temp and English teacher. Her first book was published in 2002. Singh’s novels have frequently charted on the New York Times bestseller list. She is working on three series – her latest release, Archangel’s Hunt, is the ninth book in the Guild Hunter series.

This article was first published in the January 14, 2017 issue of the New Zealand Listener. Follow the Listener on Twitter, Facebook and sign up to the weekly newsletter.