ELWOOD WRITERS MEETING 14TH JANUARY 2017

Another spirited meeting of the Elwood Writers this week. Inevitably, domestic and world political affairs loomed over the general discussions again. It seems we’ve entered a new age of anxiety. Before our collective blood pressure soared too high, we made teas and coffees and got down to literary business.

Barry proposed sharpening up the structure of the group’s workshopping sessions. In place of an informal general discussion about a particular piece of writing we agreed to try a more targeted approach where we each have five minutes to deliver individual feedback. This new format will allow us to focus during meetings on the more salient or urgent responses to a piece of work. So that nothing is overlooked, all comments and observations will continue to be captured within the marked up documents that return to the writer of the piece under consideration.

In this week’s workshop sessions, Helen talked about a book she’s recently acquired, Contemporary Australian Poetry (Puncher & Wattmann). Her poetry library is growing. She has approached the form in a somewhat unconventional way, beginning to write it before studying it closely. But that may prove to be an advantage. Margaret shared a piece of work that was conceived during a writing workshop she attended last year. Barry shared the first 2000 words of a reworking of one of the stories from his linked collection. He’s been experimenting with blocks of second person narration in the piece, and was keen to see if this was working. Finally we were introduced to a new character from Jenny’s novel when she presented a recently developed section from the work.

We’re going to return to second person narration/point of view in a future meeting for a fuller discussion of its features and applications.

Advertisements

ELWOOD WRITERS MEETING 31ST JANUARY 2017

‘What is written without effort is in general read without pleasure.’
Samuel Johnson

It was another lively session at Elwood Writers, especially with world events as they are. We discussed the group goals for 2017, including our planned soiree in August where we will read from our own work. As the group prepares to attend Adelaide Writers’ Week in March, we looked at the possibility of designing individual business cards that reflect our status as members of Elwood Writers.

In the past fortnight, Margaret attended Lee Kofman’s Introduction to Memoir: Telling the Emotional Truth. Lee reminded the class that memoir is always about memory, it is always told from your point of view, and is not so much about what happens to you as it is about ‘what you make of it’. She emphasized that the narrator must always be specific in their writing, that is give details. When asked about the importance of telling the emotional truth in memoir, she said, to paraphrase Samuel Johnson: ‘Books that don’t do any harm don’t give any pleasure.’

In the workshopping sessions, Margaret read a piece from her memoir that is currently ‘placeless’ (as Lee would say) in her narrative, but important to it. Jennifer is preparing her first contribution to a short-story writing online class that she has enrolled in. Her story is most topical and we await the class feedback. Barry read a piece of fiction he intends submitting to a literary journal. Helen presented a new poem written ‘off the cuff’ in a poetry class she attended. We look forward to hearing more about this at our next session.

Decisions and discussions

Elwood Writers had its fortnightly meeting at a café on Carlisle St in Elwood last week. We’re a politically engaged group and so the early part of the session was inevitably spent talking about the then upcoming federal election. Decisions, decisions.

Before looking at the pieces of work we’d submitted for review, we talked shop. We discussed the literary industry, and visited the recurring issue of how to make ends meet as a writer, and how to balance financial pressures with the demands of a creative practice.

What happens to a piece of writing when it’s out of our hands, and to what extent should we be concerned with how our work is interpreted by an audience? It was interesting to consider the possibility of misinterpretation by readers and whether this matters. Maybe there is no such thing as misinterpretation. Once a piece of work is released and shared, it ceases to be controllable. Readers bring themselves and the sum of their experiences to the writing, and they place themselves inside or alongside the work, and so all interpretations and responses have a claim to be valid. There’s the reader and there’s the writer and there’s the work, and they all exist in a fluctuating relationship. An author’s biographical notes, a writer speaking at a festival, an artist’s stated political position: these are experiences which can affect the way we read and respond to a piece of writing.

After critiquing each other’s submitted pieces over a couple of coffees, we dispersed into the busy afternoon. And now the federal election has come and gone, and at the time of writing the outcome remains unknown. There’s a possibility that the outcome will still be unclear by the time of our next meeting.

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.

 

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.