Podcasts from Adelaide Writers’ Week 2016

If you weren’t lucky enough to be in Adelaide for the recent Writers’ Week, you can experience it all through the podcasts of every session, now available here on Soundcloud:

Just close your eyes and imagine a warm, breezy day by the banks of the River Torrens and let the words wash over you…

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WRITING IN UBUD

The search for a distinctive and productive way to use some of my Overland VU Short Story Prize money, other than just for paying the rent and bills, has brought me to Ubud in Bali for a few weeks. While I’m here, I’ll be working on my short-fiction collection. I’ve visited Ubud several times for its writers festival, and wanted to experience its mood at a different time of year. There’s a tradition of artistic activity, and a number of creative workers are based here, so it’s not unusual to arrive looking for escape and a workspace. Importantly, it’s an inexpensive destination, and so I’m able to visit for a significant period of time.

I’m staying in a room overlooking the rice fields of Jalan Bisma. The main streets of Ubud are a short walk away. My stay includes breakfast and unlimited Indonesian tea and coffee, and there’s a swimming pool in the grounds. I spent the first few days shaping a daily routine, and shaking off a faint anxiety around doing visitor activities. But the pressure’s off. A huge relief. No tours required. No need to try different venues for food or coffee. I’ve had dinner in the same Padang restaurant for the last five nights, followed by consistently good espresso-based coffee from a nearby bakery. There’s no need to visit the sights; I did it on a previous visit. The guidebook’s in the bin. It’s liberating to explore without an agenda. Gradually, the commercial spruikers of Jalan Raya Ubud are realising they’re barking up the wrong tree with me. Or at least the chants of “taxi” and “transport” are sounding fainter in my ears. My main requirement is that my keyboard clacks and my pencil scratches for a few hours each day.

Writing process, Jennifer

When ‘writing process’ was first mentioned, I thought it meant how you put sentences together, how you might start with rough notes and turn them into a carefully crafted story. I see now that it can be considered in a broader way: how do you go about writing?

 

Discipline is tremendously important for me. I think it comes from a life of having music practice hanging over me. Sometimes ‘hanging’, sometimes something that I passionately wanted to do. But I’ve always had to fit it into my life – somehow. How could I fit writing into my life?

It was very hard until I decided to cut my paid working hours from full time to three days a week. This gave me two precious days a week for writing. I treated it as another job that I do on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. So, when friends asked, which are your days ‘off’? I would say, I don’t have any days off. On Tuesdays and Wednesdays I write. I make sure that I’m at my desk by 9 am – usually much earlier. If a friend wants to meet for lunch on one of these days I work at the Public Library and we meet at a café near there, for just an hour – like a lunch hour.

I spend most of my ‘writing’ time sitting at my laptop. For me it is a kind of tactile process. Moving the fingers on the keys seems to stimulate my brain! But I walk a lot, usually alone, and I ‘write’ then – imagining my characters, having conversations with them. Ideally, I start a writing day with a 45 minute walk, much of it along the waterfront.

How do you get started? I always need something to latch onto – it can be the tiniest phrase, maybe even a word, a fragment of an idea, a snatch of conversation. The idea for my novel came from a piece of music. When I’m working on something substantial I like to go back over the last bit I wrote – there is always a temptation to go back to the beginning. As Paul Mitchell once said in a workshop, it’s like the tide going in an out: you are drawn back with the current to edit yesterday’s work and from there you wash forward into something new. I like editing – trying to get the story just right, trying it this way and that, picking away like a dog at a bone.

Writing Process, Margaret

I write in my journal every morning for forty minutes, or I try to. My first writing teacher, Kim Trengove, was a fan of Julia Cameron’s book, The Artists Way. Cameron recommends the  ‘Morning Pages’ as a way of ridding your mind of the dross, and helping you uncover your real thoughts and feelings. Journaling also helps develop the ‘writing muscle’.

In writing memoir, the ‘pages’ help me drill down to my hidden beliefs, and uncover any fear being them. In clearing my mind of daily minutiae, I am better able to discover what actually lies there.  Mentor, Kaylie Jones, says memoir is about creating the ‘eye’ that watches the “I”.

As I learn to detach, ironically I can go deeper into what I am most afraid to write, find a way to express it, and allow a structure or at least a pattern to emerge. Miles Davis once said: “You have to play a long time to be able to play like yourself.” This is true for me. It takes me a long time to learn to write like myself; a long time to find my own voice. But any glimmer of that individuality emerging is well worth the effort. For in the single story, they say, lives the universal.

 

Chaos and Catharsis – My Writing Process

My writing process has always been pretty chaotic and unruly. Ideas for stories have been written on tram tickets, serviettes and gas bills. Ideas can come to me at the most inconvenient times, usually when I walk away from the page! They sometimes come through dreams – which I write down every morning. They’ve come from snatches of conversation – ‘Did ya hear about the bloke who shot his missus on the train,’ was all I heard one day running towards Flinders St station. I had a story deadline pressing, so that became the title of my story, as well as the opening line.

A lot of my stories are been based on my own experiences, sometimes challenging ones. I’ve found humour to be a great tool to help me write about certain things. I grew up watching the great female comics – Joan Rivers, Phyllis Diller, Carol Burnett. They were strong women who seemed to be able to broach any topic, even taboo subjects and make it all funny. I like the quote ‘if they’re laughing, they’re listening.’ There’s power in that idea for me. I’ve found it a very cathartic and validating experience writing about things from the past and having people laugh and clap. It didn’t matter in the end that it began as a sad story, what mattered was that I found a way to tell it.

One of the hardest struggles I’ve experienced as a writer is sitting down to the page. Suddenly there’ll be a sponge in my hand or a load of washing that must be put on. I had a writer’s studio for a while at Linden Gallery and spent most of my hours there decorating it then filling it with writer’s meetings! But luckily, I’m a sucker for a deadline.  As such, I set aside whole weekends to work on specific writing projects – story competitions, magazine submissions etc. I wake up, grab the laptop and work through the hours from my bed. If you knocked on my door at midnight, that’s where you’d find me – unshowered, still in my dressing gown asking you in for breakfast…and I’ll be smiling.

 

My Writing ‘Process’ – Helen

Haphazard is the word I would use to describe my writing process. I have tried to put structure to, and boundaries around, my practice, but after many years it still seems to resemble squiggly lines on a piece of paper. I’m not hugely disciplined and like many writers will procrastinate to the bitter end, and think up anything to do rather than sit down and actually write. I’m slow too. I walk a lot – fresh air and exercise is a wonderful guilt-free excuse for not getting it down on paper.

But here’s the funny thing – it happens anyway. As I stride along, ideas take a hold of me – like gremlins they whisper ‘go on, go there, I dare you.’ I am surprised by what I write. Often it is the thing I most want to avoid – or bury in a deep hole quite frankly. It’s what takes over when I am pondering other themes to explore or stories I want to tell. To my astonishment, the slow decline of elderly parents, the heartbreak of separation, the fear of drowning in the mire of daily struggles – there it all is poured onto the page.

These words take form in poetry. I love the intensity of making every word count. I struggle with it and despair. But sometimes, just sometimes, I see in the words a truth I’ve told.

And then I know why I write.

 

Writing Process: Barry

I visit my writing several times throughout the day. Sessions vary from five minute bursts to extended periods of a few hours. This way, I can put in a minimum of a couple of hours a day, and often more like four to five. This is a framework. I have a home workspace – a place for my computer, books and tools – but can work anywhere.

Writing isn’t just a physical process of working with words on a page. It’s the creative and percolative activity that goes on in the spaces. In other words, the work also happens while reading, daydreaming, riding the bike, poking around, or what-have-you.

I’m never without a paper notebook. I keep the old ones stored in a filing cabinet. Captured moments. Conversations, song lyrics, glances, peripheral observations. The unorthodox, discordant, and mundane. Here, an obsessive mind might be a fortunate trait.

Short fiction suits my temperament and way of working. A new story can begin from a blank page, or a paragraph or phrase within an existing piece of writing. I rarely delete. An opportunity arises, such as a competition or a callout for submissions, and I circle round until I land on a fragment of material that captures my interest, and then begin to shape it into a new piece. Experimentation is thrilling, and I love the idea of development through failure. It’s a playful process, and instinct plays a part. Sentences are the building blocks of a story, and proficiency in them gives a reader confidence that they’re in capable hands, so allowing greater experimentation within the work.

Reading aloud, and listening to playbacks, I imagine works as radio pieces. Listening enables an objective sentence by sentence edit, and a chance to gauge the texture, mood, rhythms and poetry of the prose.

Writing can help to make life navigable. Anxieties, uncertainties and ambiguities can be contained and explored on the page through the endless possibilities of fictional forms.