Welcome to Spilling the Tea, a feature where we ask authors all about craft, industry ins and outs, and more! This week we have Suma Subramaniam on the WNDB blog to discuss time management, writing habits, and avoiding burnout.
What’s your advice for people balancing writing with a day job and life in general? Are there any specific methods or habits that have helped you?
I’ll share the advice I got from my wonderful mentor, Martine Leavitt. I think of her every day. I am forever grateful for her advice. Read and write every day even if it’s only a sentence or two. Write for the child in you.
One method that has worked for me is writing by hand in a journal. It helps me process my thoughts slowly and write with heart.
When do you actually write and revise? Early in the morning or late at night? Squeezed into pockets of free time?
If I don’t wake up early in the morning and begin work at 6 am, writing will not happen. Having a day job gives me limited time to write. My family is central to everything I do, and I spend most of my time keeping everyone at home comfortable.
I also write at the end of the day when the family has gone to sleep. When the creative energy is spent, I read or work on admin activities.
How much time do you devote to the admin work of being a professional writer? How do you make sure to set aside enough time for writing as well as keeping up with your emails, social media, etc?
As for emails, admin work, and social media, I make a to-do list and attend to those that need my immediate attention first. Over time, I have realized that I do not have to respond to all emails the same day, and writing takes precedence over everything else.
I have an online accountability writers group called Good Morning Crew. We check in on slack every day and announce that we’re here, working. Some days, we do 15 min sprints if we don’t have long blocks of time in the day to write.
Writing rituals are common—whether it’s as small as brewing a cup of tea or as elaborate as completing a list of tasks before sitting down to write. Would you say you have one? If so, what is it?
Writing is the first and the last thing I do every day. I write by hand. I usually have a warm cup of herbal tea at my desk. This is my writing space. Here’s what you see: A passed-down photo of Saraswati—the goddess of arts and learning on the wall, a 120+ year-old ancestral, passed down Happy Human figurine, a meditation mat on the chair, a handmade journal from Joni Sensel, and a “light me while writing” candle from Cynthia Leitich Smith.
Juggling more than one job is never easy. How do you avoid burnout?
I try to take time off for a few days every three months to recharge. During those days, I mostly stay at home, go for long walks, make time to sleep well, and read. Sometimes, I travel.
Anything else to add?
Thank you so much for interviewing me!
Suma’s picture books She Sang for India (out November 8, 2022) and Namaste Is A Greeting (out now) are available for pre-order and order, respectively.
Suma Subramaniam is the author of She Sang For India: How M.S. Subbulakshmi Used Her Voice For Change (Macmillan FSG, 2022), Namaste Is A Greeting (Candlewick Press, 2022), A Bindi Is A Dot (Kids Can Press, 2024), V. Malar series (Candlewick Press, 2024 and 2025), My Name is Long As a River (Penguin Workshop, Fall 2024), as well as Fairies (Capstone, 2021), and Centaurs (Capstone, 2021), with more books forthcoming. She’s also a contributing author to The Hero Next Door (Penguin Random House, 2019). Her poems have been published in the Young People’s Poetry edition of Poetry Magazine from Poetry Foundation. She is a volunteer at We Need Diverse Books, Diverse Verse, and SCBWI Western Washington. Suma has an MFA in Creative Writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts. Visit her website at https://sumasubramaniam.com.