Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

At the Desk: Jennifer Hillier

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Jennifer Hillier's desk

For each book that sits on our shelves or rests in our hands, a writer has spent countless hours researching, organizing, writing and rewriting. In Open Book’s At The Desk series, writers tell us about their creative processes and the workspaces that inspire them.

Freak (Simon & Schuster Canada) is the follow up to Jennifer Hillier's debut, Creep. A psychological thriller, Freak is the chilling story of a madman intent on freeing an equally dangerous criminal. Police, investigators and Professor Shelia Tao are reluctant to make a deal with the devil — the woman the murderer is trying to have freed — but with time ticking down and the body count rising, they are running out of options.

Jennifer's warm workspace may be a contrast with her dark, nerve-wracking narratives, but it's the perfect place for her. Today she talks with Open Book about her dedicated writing schedule, taking time away from a manuscript and the best bands for her writing playlist.

I've learned over the years that I need to feel cozy when I write. I find large spaces distracting, and I don't do well at coffee shops because I'm too nosey and always want to know what's going on around me. I also need a view of the outside world. It doesn't have to be anything special, but if I can see a tree or two and maybe the occasional person walking their dog, it helps fuel my creativity immensely.

I have a ritual I follow when I sit down to write. My sessions always begin in the early afternoon. Some kind of beverage (tea or coffee) is always within reach, and a candle (something that smells like apple pie or cinnamon) is always burning. On the iTunes playlist are songs by Radiohead, The Cure, Depeche Mode and Smashing Pumpkins — a little moody perhaps, but my writing tends to be moody, anyway. The door to my writing space is always closed, and while it doesn’t block out the sounds of activity in other parts of the house, it does make me feel safe and cocooned.

When working on a first draft, I aim to write 1,400 words a day. This might seem like an odd number, but it actually isn't. A complete draft for me is around 90,000 words, and I figure that if I were to write 1,000 words every day, it would take me ninety days to complete the first draft. That's a good timeline for me; anything longer and I risk overthinking the novel. But since I don't want to feel like I have to write on weekends (which are family time), I divide what would have been a 7,000-word quota for the week by five days, making my quota 1,400 words a day from Monday to Friday.

I always start each writing session by editing the previous day's work. Nothing intensive, but I find that after a good night's sleep, I can usually spot areas the next afternoon that need to be fleshed out, or in some cases, scaled back. Once that quick edit is done, I go on to write new words until I hit my quota, and then I go back and give those words a quick edit before shutting down for the day. By the time my novel is finished, every scene has been edited twice, making for a decent first draft.

I always allow a first draft to marinate for six to eight weeks before tackling revisions. This time away from the manuscript is crucial, allowing me to come back to the novel with completely fresh eyes. It's not uncommon for me during the revision process to be surprised at what I've written. Since I don't outline, I never really know what's going to happen until I actually write it, and after six weeks, I've usually forgotten it. Reading the first draft through is the most fun, but also the most challenging, because the second draft is all about large, structural changes.

I typically do about four drafts before I feel comfortable letting anyone read my work, which altogether takes about nine months. I always try to send my best work to my editor, that way her feedback is focused on taking me — and the book — to the next level.

— Jennifer Hillier

Jennifer Hillier is the author of Creep and Freak. Originally from Canada, she spent almost five years in the beautiful Pacific Northwest before returning to her hometown of Toronto, Canada. Visit her on the web at

For more information about Freak please visit the Simon & Schuster Canada website.

Buy this book at your local independent bookstore or online at Chapters/Indigo or Amazon.

Check out all the At the Desk interviews in our archives.

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