The Writer’s Room: Kylie Orr

My next interviewee needs little introduction, mostly because her bio just about covers everything you could possibly need to know! Aside from saying that I met Kylie at Masterclass this year and that she had me in stitches from the get go, you need to know that she’s definitely one to watch. I have no doubt that Kylie’s debut novel is going to be an absolute page turner! Publishers would be mad to pass this lady in.

Buckle in…

Kylie Orr in a Melbourne-based writer who has her fingers in many pies. 

After completing a Bachelor of Arts (English Major) Kylie travelled to Europe and beyond. She discovered her dream job as a Janet Jackson back-up dancer was not realistic, so returned home to jobs in banking, customer service, retail and more travel, before falling into human resources.

She paused her desire to conquer the corporate world, and left to have a billion babies. Well, four of them, to be precise. This is when she reassessed both her sanity and her career options. Loss of sanity was a bygone conclusion, but she still held hope for a flamboyant career.

Kylie wanted to write, loved to write and had no shortage of lofty dreams about shacks in the South of France amongst the lavender as she wrote life-changing novels. So wrote she did, and has been ever since (without the France part). For the past ten years, Kylie has been a regular feature writer for various online and print publications, most notably Fairfax’s parenting website, Essential Baby.

Her award-winning short stories have been shortlisted in Autumn Authors, Cancer Council Awards, My Child’s Parenting Express, and Stringybark. Kylie’s corporate writing has helped startups, Teenstr and Incogo and a voice for their brand. She writes web content, corporate communication, and long to-do lists for her husband.

Kylie’s four children’s picture books published by Lake Press, are to be released in Canada in 2018. She also has a young readers chapter book series and a commercial fiction novel in progress. 

Kylie lives on the side of a cliff with her four children and one husband who fuel her creativity. She is constantly inspired, moved and amused.

1. Firstly, can you give us a bit of a run down of your writing approach? (when, where, how much, etc)

I actually have quite a disciplined approach to writing, now that my children are all at school. I ensure I write every day between the hours of 9am and 3pm. Naturally, life with four kids means I can’t devote the entire school hours to writing – there are always sports days to attend, errands to run, other commitments that might take an hour or two away from my keyboard – but I ensure I sit at my desk for at least three hours each day. It’s not always easy to force the creative brain to work, and sometimes my most productive times are just before I have to collect the kids from school, which can be a little frustrating but I work within the confines of balancing family and writing.

I share a home office with my husband who runs his own IT business. It’s an interesting combo – he’s often deep in writing code while I’m deep in writing my novel and I interrupt him often! I like to ask what he thinks of a certain line I’ve just written, or quiz him about a character’s motivation. He’s very patient. Strangely, he doesn’t often ask my opinion about the code he’s writing… I do put up with him crunching his sourdough toast very loudly, so I think we’re even.

I occasionally write at ridiculous hours of the morning if I can’t sleep. I have a paper and pen next to my bed and sometimes jot down brilliant ideas, that don’t seem so brilliant when the morning comes. I wrote my first children’s book, ‘Whose Pants?’ at 2am, after taking a cold and flu night tablet that had the opposite effect of drowsy. I wouldn’t recommend it, but sometimes gems are discovered even when the brain is a little foggy.

As for the actual process of writing – I am a ‘pantser’ which is strange because I’m a planner, and very organised in every other aspect of my life. Writing is more like a free falling activity for me. I have a tiny pop of a an idea, and I run with it. Sometimes it works, sometimes not. Sometimes I can rearrange the ideas into a neater, more continuous flow, and sometimes I ditch them altogether. I find the pieces that work best are ones that just roll out in one beautiful red carpet. Not really possible when writing a novel, so that has been a big eye opener for me!

2. Is writing your main gig, or do you do it on the side of other work (paid or not), and how does that look on a practical level?

I have been a feature writer for Essential Baby for almost 10 years, and do other freelance writing for various online publications. I write web / corporate content, general articles etc. It pays some of the bills, but certainly not all of them. My family commitments come first, and I fit writing in around them. Luckily, my husband is the breadwinner and I have the luxury of playing with words for love not money. Although a bit more cold hard cash would be very appreciated, so my plans are to amp up the writing as my children become more independent!

3. What genre do you write in and can you share a bit about what you’ve written to date, or what you’re working on now?

I write feature articles for digital publications as my main bread and butter. The most predominant topic I write about is parenting. I’ve written over 200 articles – not all of them about temper tantrums and pooey nappies – and the subject matter has evolved as my children grow and I discover more and more areas of contention or challenge. I like to write about parenting in an honest way. I don’t think it’s helpful to any new (or experienced) parent to sugarcoat life with kids. It’s hard, not often rewarded and very often judged. I am usually self-deprecating but sometimes I have a strong opinion about a component of parenting and I put that forward to incite discussion. At times, it can invite the haters too, which isn’t much fun.

I write short stories because I like to practice the art of being concise. A skill I’m not great at – I like to crap on. Ask my family and friends.

I have just published four children’s picture board books, through Lake Press, which are being released in Canada in Jan 2018, and can be purchased locally via my website 

The big kahuna I’m working on is my commercial women’s fiction novel, ‘The Fundraiser’. It has been a labour of love for almost three years. I am determined to get it to a publishable state, and am very excited to be working with a freelance editor who can hopefully help me mould this baby into a fine piece of fiction.

4. Why did you start writing?

I’ve always loved writing. I love telling stories (verbally) and I guess that transpired to writing stories down. I completed an Arts Degree and majored in English. I didn’t really know what I wanted to do, so I just followed my passion – writing. But it took me a long time to get to the stage where I could call myself a ‘writer’. I worked in many other jobs first and only took up writing when I had my firstborn (now 14!).

I write because I have to. If I don’t write, I’m an unbearable human being to be around. I write because I have stories that itch my skin, that keep me awake at night and if I don’t write them down, they spread like a rash and consume me.

I write because there are characters in my head that take over valuable real estate in my brain if I don’t let them out.

I write because I have things I need to say, things I want to say. I write to share my experience, to entertain, amuse and hopefully move people in some way.

I’d like to say I write for the money but so far I’ve barely made a living from it.

I write because I love words but mostly because I love to tell a story. I write because if I didn’t, I don’t know what else I’d do.

I need to have a creative outlet, I need to challenge my brain in a way that scares me. I need to set myself challenges and hurdles and I can honestly say, writing has been the one that offers me the most challenge and therefore the greatest rewards. It’s also had me rocking in a corner, so it’s not all fairy floss and ferris wheels.

5. Where do you draw inspiration for your writing?

I’m inspired by the small details in life. I think writers (and creatives in general) notice things other people don’t. We watch how people interact; the nuances in voice and tone, the flickers in body language that tell a million more stories than words ever can. We are tuned into smell and sounds and tastes. I’m intrigued by minuscule differences – tiny scars on the back of a hand, a curious tattoo, an underbite, a cowlick. I wonder what story that tells about a person.

I see characters wherever I go. Sitting in the car at the traffic lights, I can concoct a story about the person sitting next to me, in their car, picking their nose. Not necessarily a good story, but it has a plot and a character!

I also like hearing other people’s stories and sometimes use these as springboards for developing more involved plots.

6. What’s your favourite thing about being a writer?

Playing with words and characters. Telling stories that entertain or move people. Making shit up. (See, you don’t always have to be eloquent to be a writer!)

7. And what do you find most challenging?

The rejection.

Before writing, I worked in industries where the feedback was almost always positive. As a human resources manager, I was big on feedback for staff and always lapped up praise and suggestions for improvement myself. I knew I was good at those jobs, because staff appraisal processes told me I was doing a great job, and that was reflected in my salary.

When I became a mum, I learned quickly that feedback was limited to a toddler screaming in a supermarket aisle when you didn’t buy them the lolly they demanded. Sure, there were also the gummy smiles of babies and the snugly cuddles of small children, but for the most part, I felt like I was doing a terrible job at this whole mothering game. I felt surrounded by judgment and people who did it better. Taking on a writing career as a mother, compounded the feelings of failure!

Writing online is a risky venture – you open yourself up to anonymous people having strong opinions about your topic matter and about your writing skill – I’ve had my grammar publicly corrected and my parenting criticised. I’ve been told by people who have never met me that I’m an awful mother, based on articles I’ve written.

It can be brutal, confidence-crushing, and soul-destroying. Pitching story ideas to editors that either ignore you altogether or reject your ideas, is part of the job, but I don’t think it ever gets easier. Writing an entire novel for years, only for it to be turned down, is a colossal rejection but all writers know it is par for the course. My skin is thicker these days and I have had to edit my self-talk to ignore the imposter in my brain, telling me I’m not good enough. Sometimes it is like wading through molasses, but that just makes the wins all the sweeter, and the determination much stronger.

8. What sort of training / study have you undertaken as part of your writing journey, and have you found it useful?

BA (English Major)

Professional Writing & Editing Course (that I didn’t finish because I was pregnant and never went back after I had my first baby).

A plethora of short courses in creative writing, writing for children, writing for magazines etc.

A one-on-one 6-month mentorship with Kathryn Heyman (author) to guide me through my novel.

Fiona McIntosh’s Commercial Fiction Masterclass.

To be honest, Fiona’s class gave me the best and most practical advice, as well as the boot up the arse I needed. I think the other courses were useful for the stage of my life I was at – a generalist degree taught me to study, collate information, and hone my passions. The short courses offered a basic grounding in the topic matter. The mentorship gave me guidance and deadlines, which I needed to motivate me to an end product. Ultimately, I think practice and life experience are the two most important attributes for a writer. There is a point where you have enough theory and just need to get writing.

9. Do you have any advice for other emerging writers?

Just start writing. Anything. I started with short stories, and I read back on them now, 15 years later, and realise how terrible they were but you have to start somewhere. At the time, I was very proud of them! I try to be articulate and funny in most of my communications, including emails to friends, because I enjoy the fun you can have with words. I don’t mind a swear word, too, which obviously needs a specific audience…

When I was trying to write my novel and agonising over the opening line, so much so that it paralysed me, the one quote I read that helped was, ‘you can’t edit a blank page’ (and perhaps ‘write drunk, edit sober’ although I’ve never tried that). Your first draft of anything will be shit. Accept it and believe it will get better and just get on with it. You can’t polish thin air, so get something down on paper (or screen) and fix it later. Fear is a paralyser, but panic is a great motivator. Give yourself deadlines. And meet them.

And of course, read. A lot. Although sometimes that disheartens me because I feel like I will never be as good as some of the best (I love Lionel Shriver and Tim Winton but will never be able to write like them, because it’s not my natural style).

One other out-of-the-box thing I did to challenge myself was to enter 25 word or less competitions! Sounds like a sad story of a morbidly obese dole bludger, but it actually taught me to really think about what I wanted to say, and I won a few things, including a 10-day trip for 2 to Peru! I don’t do it much anymore but it was a successful year if you count the winnings 🙂

Kylie’s four children’s books, ‘Whose Pants?’ ‘Whose Shoes?’ “Whose Hat?” ‘Whose Bag?’ are available via her website. 

You can also connect with Kylie via Instagram and Twitter.


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