Bringing disparate bits together (or: Return of the Blog)

“I think I’ll go and write a novella. brb.”

That’s how I signed off my previous post here, 9-odd months ago. As far as last lines go, I think it has a certain charm. If I had to end my blog there, I guess I’d be okay with it. Although, I wonder if a blog ever truly ends, or just sits there waiting, not like the finality of a novel’s last lines, but with its own literary quality, a kind of time-stamped acronym-tinged wit, update pending…

But I’m not talking about novels or blogs as such (and although I am fond of that last post, I’m quite eager to actually be back updating and continuing this thing) — no,  I’m talking about that novella, or an equivalent body of works, wordcount-wise. Yeah? How did I go? Did a novella-length work (or works) gestate and emerge, gloriously imperfect but formed and real and true?

Well, no. I got to about 10,000 words that weekend, which is still a pretty jolly good effort if you ask me. Other co-participants did better, some did worse, we all received a few nice little prizes, we interconnected with one another, and some participants had their words published. All in all, not bad at all! For my part, beyond that original blog post, a few good (if unfinished and unevenly formed) pieces emerged from the process, so I think I’ll get more out of it eventually, maybe even a novella! But not yet. Still, I had a good enough time, and in other gains, I think I re-learned some old lessons: sectioning off time for writing and nothing else, even for a 25-minute Pomodoro at a time, is a good way to go; I still don’t write very well to music except for light background noise, although there are some lyric-free, droney, repetitive, unintrusive and/or otherwise special exceptions; and I don’t think I really want to do any more of those frantic wordvomit sessions like Rabbit Hole or NaNoWriMo — I’m more interested in working at my own pace, with my own lone effort of writing and editing (and publishing!), without really focussing on wordcount. Having said that, maybe it could be otherwise.

I remember now (as I look back over old notes, trying to recall and tie so many disparate bits together) how Rjurik Davidson discussed his experiences (post-24-Hour Book Project, orchestrated by the increasingly interesting if:book) of writing as part of a group and bashing out thousands of words in a short time-period. Maybe it’s true, as he suggests, that all these habits and ideas we have about ourselves as writers are a lot more malleable than we realise. Context, digital media, collaborations, (self-)editing, time-constraints — maybe they all can help to bust up myths we tell ourselves about our preferred writing habits, practices, identities even? Sure, sometimes these are matters of necessity, sanity and circumstances. But that’s not always the case. I guess it’s good to be flexible and adaptable, experiment, keep moving and trying new things. Go with what works, but don’t rely on one way of working. Changing ways can be hard, but maybe that’s just the exercise of mental muscles, all that ol’ brain elasticity. It’s also a question of whether you fit writing into your life, or plan your life around your writing. Priorities. And other recurring word and themes. I’m babbling. Basically, it was interesting and worthwhile and it allllll gets me thinkin’.

But that was that, so enough of that.

Still, it has been 9 months. 2013 has begun in earnest. April arrives again, and with it, thoughts of impending winter, hibernation and hunkering down like a hermit to write, despite frozen fingers, with renewed hopes of wriggling out of those old habits, routines, boundaries and categories. It has been a while between posts. There has been a veritable mass-spawning of other happenings in this 9 months, as you’d expect. Life tends to be fecund with happenings. Life is also, for me (lately? or always), fecund with lists, so here’s a pair:

A List of 10 Things, or Groups of Things, That Have Been Some of the Good Things of  the Past 9 Months or So

  1. Incheon, London, Halesworth, Okehampton, Paris, Karlsruhe, Frankfurt, Perth, Sydney, Wagga Wagga, Narranderra and Canberra again: we travelled a lot and it was up and down, this way and that and wonderful.
  2. Being part of Scissors Paper Pen as we continue to make lit happen with stellar people: At Arms Length, WORDLABs, Something Elses, Papercuts and more and more to come. Rad.
  3. YOU ARE HERE 2013 WAS EXCELLENT AND I WANT TO GUSH ABOUT IT.
  4. A good friend’s bucks weekend! Weddings, engagements, births, couplings, friends, family. People at their best. People.
  5. Won the first poetry slam I entered. Had things published. Enrolled in a short story course. Wrote.
  6. Went to TiNA and it was pretty darn good.
  7. The King is Dead, Jens Lekman live, Berbarian Sound Studio, Looper, Ngapartji Ngapartji, Corinbank, Darren Hanlon live, The Secret River, Cloud Atlas, Breaking Bad, Life of Pi, board games and poetry and stories and morrrre. So many good things.
  8. Still employed. Still going well.
  9. Started planning a wedding with the woman I love.
  10. Christmas. New Year. Birthdays. Lunar New Year. Small gatherings. Kitchen wins and tasty meals. Plans. I saw Prime Possum in person in the library. I’m healthy and well. I’m ridiculously fortunate, really.

A List of 10 Things, of Groups of Things, that have Been Some of the Bad Things of  the Past 9 Months or So

  1. Speeding tickets, parking tickets. 
  2. Arguments and discomfort.
  3. Getting sick. People I know being sick. (Distant) people dying.
  4. People at, or near, their worst.
  5. Not enough. Rejection. Failure. Loss. Distance.
  6. Kitchen disasters, clumsiness, carelessness.
  7. Leaks from upstairs.
  8. Busyness/privileged whining.
  9. [Insert all the fucked up shit happening in the world here]
  10. And what’s up with my nose? I sneeze too much.

More lists? More lists.

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The first 1000 words I wrote yesterday as I burrowed into The Rabbit Hole

Okay so this is it! I’m starting off with a frantic blog post to get things warmed up. I’m already hating what I’m writing and resisting the urge to edit as I go, because editing comes later and posting this will probably come after (light) editing, but who cares because right now it’s about writing.

Sorry. I should explain. It’s just hit six o’clock on Friday June the 1st 2012, which means that as I write right now, I’m putting words toward a count of 30,000 words, along with dozens of others across the country. Again: thirty thousand words. I’m going to spare myself the pain of checking the word count too frequently, but I’m guessing I haven’t done 0.00001% of that. And also, my mathematical capabilities are not so great. Lucky I have words. Words!

Hey, so now the frantic initial rush is beginning to wear off and I’m getting into a groove. So I think now I’ll write out some of my plans, hopes, goals and other scattered thoughts. Apparently I will be writing out a lot of my thoughts as they arise. This is good. This is progress. This is pure. First thought, best thought, Allen Ginsberg said. I think. But then I think Ernest Hemingway said something about the first draft of everything being shit and there’s probably a really smart quote from a woman too, but I don’t know it.

No. I must resist the urge to read over what I’ve just written. At least until I get to the 6.25pm mark. This is because I’m using the Pomodoro technique. I would add a hyperlink there, but I’m sure you can track down details about it if you’ve not heard of it before and I’m not about to waste time with hyperlinking and stuff. That comes later. As does tea and biscuits and stretching and checking and updating my progress on the social networks. Who knows what things are currently blazing past like a waterfall on fire in the middle of a tornado? Not me. Because I am writing. Okay, you get it, I get it: I’m writing. Good.

If in doubt, answer rhetorical questions, no matter how lazy a technique it is. Why am I doing this? Well, Phil English of Toothsoup put me up to it. There are apparently various other incentives and rewards for various word counts. It’s an interesting experience. I get to work on all sorts of writing projects (both shortish and rather longish) that I’ve had sitting in my notebook and on scraps of paper and in my brain, little  ideas that now get a bit of expansion. And I thought it’d be an interesting challenge. Something I’ve never tried before. As I think I already mentioned, I’m a notorious over-editor and a slow writer. This is all about stretching unfamiliar muscles, mostly in the brain (metaphorically – I know the brain does not have muscles. My knowledge of anatomy is close to my knowledge of mathematics, but I know that much) but also in the fingers. I may get back pain as well. I just cracked my neck. It’s just as well my girlfriend is in the next room and the door is closed. She hates when I crack my neck. She wasn’t happy about this challenge either. Funnily enough, my girlfriend likes to spend time with me on the weekends. Ah, the eternal balancing act between competing loves.

That’s about ten minutes. Let’s sneak a look at word count shall we? 500 words, almost exactly! That’s 1000 words in 20 minutes, and 3000 words in an hour! Surely I can’t keep that up. I’ll probably slow down a little and take a little more care once I get to fiction writing. I only really wanted this to be maybe 1000 words max, so I’d better move on. I wonder how everyone else is doing?

So yes, I have some short story ideas, some potential novella ideas, a few blog post ideas beyond this one, a couple of reviews, some poetry, maybe a little non-fiction, maybe 1000 or so words of pure stream-of-consciousness writing (because what better time than now?) and who knows what else will emerge? After two hours of this tonight I’ll have dinner, maybe write a little more into the late hours. Then it’s up bright and early for a full day of writing tomorrow. That’s the true marathon section. I have no real commitments then (well, except for my aforementioned girlfriend – oh my, she just came in as I wrote that [I scrolled the page down to blank and she accused me of not having written anything; “copy, paste, copy, paste,” she mocks] and showed me this amazing craft project she’s been working on for me. Ah! I am not worthy! BUT DO NOT INTERRUPT). And then on Sunday I have work, which knocks off about 7 hours including travel time. So a bit more writing before work, and then after work it’ll be a final dash to the finish line at 8pm Sunday.

I already have a slight headache, but that might be the sugary tea and biscuits I gorged on beforehand. And there’s more where they came from. Woah, and just about time for my first Pomodoro break! The action, it simply does not stop!

I feel a lot of this is babbling, and would probably otherwise be edited out but I don’t think it’s utterly terrible. I wonder if I continue writing like this, whether the raw, unedited stuff gets better? I think I need to find a balance slightly more geared towards quality, while maintaining quantity. I think a real benefit of this (and the Pomodoro technique) are that they just force you to write. Not sit on Facebook. Not umm. Not ahh. Write. And the good stuff will come. Hopefully.

Thank you and my apologies if you’ve read this far.

What else do I have planned? Experiments with listening to music while writing (I’m usually the silent type) and updates on Facebook and Twitter (#rabbithole and #ewf12). What else?

Well, this and many more questions will surely be answered as I go deeper and deeper down the Rabbit Hole.

See you on the other side.

Wait, so then it’s more of a Rabbit Tunnel?

Again, all will be revealed.

Okay. That’s more than 1000 words now. Just gotta do that 30 times.

I think I’ll go and write a novella. brb.

Things To Do At The Emerging Writers Festival (When You’re In Canberra)

I attended the Emerging Writers Festival in person two years in a row when I lived in Melbourne, in 2009 and 2010.  I volunteered, helped with sitting-behind-zine-fair-table duties and largely just participated enthusiastically. It’s a valuable, wonderful, recommended time for anyone passionate about writing in any of its forms and offshoots.

But for this year’s fest, as in 2011, I’m several hundred kilometres away, in Canberra. This is fine, I love Canberra (in a complicated way). But I would still like to be at the fest. Maybe you’re the same. Maybe you’re even further away, or tantalisingly close, but otherwise engaged.

Not to worry! Because the EWF is awesome, they’ve thought of plenty of opportunities for participation, engagement and development, using this internet thing that everyone’s talking about.

The EWF itself is already up-and-running, May 24 to June 3, but in the middle, kicking off and on and on between May 28 and June 1 there’s EWFDigital, a program specifically made for the online space. Take note: this is rad, and Festival Director Lisa Dempster has put together some really interesting thoughts on literary participation in an online space, so you know they’re taking it seriously, and it’s not just a sidenote. This year, there’s something called Stories in Your Stream, online panel discussions, TwitterFest, online exhibitions, an interactive keynote and probably stacks more.

Watch this space, I guess. [EDIT: The afternoon after I wrote this post, EWFDigital was properly launched. This all feels a bit premature now. All I can say is: go. Get amongst it!]

For now, it’s probably even worthwhile delving 20 pages or so into the EWF Blog archives to check out last year’s EWFDigital programming.

Speaking of which: the EWF Blog. It brings together posts from a variety of bloggers, from the aforementioned festival director to a wide variety of EWF attendees and participants. EWF attendees and participants are awesome. They write summaries and reflections regarding festival events, experiences and even the after-parties. Keep an eye out.

Then there’s EWF’s Twitter profile, and the #ewf12 hashtag that will be flooding people’s feeds. These will lead you to further goodness and good people.

And I’m keenly awaiting the arrival into my earholes of I Heard You Like Rereading Books?. It shall be a wondrous fusion of JoMad and The Rereaders, recorded live in front of an EWF audience, for our later listening pleasure.

And I may just have written one of the upcoming reviews of self-published books for the NSW Writers Centre’s blog, as the Emerging Writers Festival joins them for 366 Days of Writing.

Oh, that’s right, AND I’m participating in the Online Team (AKA Team Awesome) for The Rabbit Hole. We’re each gonna be aiming to write 30,000 words in 3 days next weekend. Meh, no biggies (ie I AM QUIVERING). More on my plans for that soon, hopefully. For now, follow #rabbithole I guess!

And there’s probably more! Who knows what else is in store for a digital attendee of EWF? At the very least, do the festival proud and write like you’re possessed by a writing fever that can only be cured by writing writing writing. Like the hokey pokey, that’s what it’s all about.

I think it’s important to recognise, and embrace, both the limitations and the possibilites of digital participation in a festival, and with literature generally. Really, nothing beats attending a good festival in person, but then there are some things you can only do in an online space. Ideally, experience both, if you can. But if, like me, you’re a writer (or an emerging writer, or whatever writing-inclined label you wanna give yerself) who can’t get anywhere near Melbourne’s CBD over the next few days, why not participate online?

See you at the fest.

TiNA 2011 Nostalgia

How long after a festival ends is it reasonable to write about it? Does the passing of time provide perspective, fuzzy memories, a vague sense of nostalgic longing or some kind of triple combo deal thereof? After weeks of backburnering, will I finish writing the things I start? And will I start the things I finish? Do I even know what I’m talking about anymore? All a series of unnecessary introductory questions that I nonetheless intend to at least attempt to answer by the end of this thing.

This is Not Art, affectionately nicknamed TiNA, was held in Newcastle on the 29th of September to the 3rd of October this year, as it is done annually. That’s five reliable days of awesomeness every year. This year I went for just over two of those days.

Here’s some advice to future attendees of TiNA: go for the full five days. Last year I did. Two days is not the same. It’s still amazing and wonderful and fun and exceedingly worthwhile in a way that makes you gush and write blog posts about it weeks (months!) after the fact. But when you consider that at any one time there’s probably half a dozen excellent and worthy things going on at TiNA, you want to get the full five-day fill.

In fact, I think next year I’ll just expand those five days out to a whole week. I’ll take the train there and back, have a leisurely jaunt of reading, scribbling, music-listening, gazing out the window and taking naps along the way. Driving there really takes it out of you, so once you arrive you’re already exhausted. Not good. I think I’ll fork out for better accommodation next year too. And a sturdy raincoat. And gumboots. Ah yes. Regrets. I have a few. But I’m not complaining really. I really am glad that I got to go for a second time, as a more casual visitor than last year, when I was a fresh-eyed Voiceworks EdComm Triple Workshopper Dude. Ah. Memories.

Anyway, it’s been a while now. The post-TiNA flu and blues have passed. The inspiration still lingers. But there’s some unfinished business, and I’m trying to wrap some stuff up before year’s end. I wanted to do both my own TiNA wrap-up and a bit of round-up of responses to TiNA. More on the latter later.

But first, here it is: my TiNA 2011:

 

Friday

4pm: My girlfriend and I had braved the surprisingly jammed traffic, semi-circled that final roundabout, and from that point, it seemed we were finally entering Newcastle.  We’d driven to Sydney the previous day and stayed with her folks. We’d been slack getting moving that morning. But now we were heading in the general direction of the CBD, past mineral industry, machinery, coastal rivers, bridges and, gradually, it all became distinctly Novocastrian. Last year I’d just caught the bus from the airport, so I wasn’t entirely sure where I was going, but eventually I found both my bearings and my way to our tiny, bed-sized hotel room above a pub. We unpack and prepare ourselves for our TiNA experience.

5pm: We wander past abandoned shopfronts, adult and bridal wear stores and assorted creative hubs, including the Octopod, outside of which I grab a program and begin circling events and initiating an obscure coded language for how much I want to see stuff and what order I will see it in.

7.15pm: Having roughly worked out which buildings had been claimed in the name of TiNA this year, I had some reference points. We head for the Crackhouse and run into our buddies Greg and Lesley from Canberra publisher Blemish Books. Huzzah! We head into Catalyst 5, which is meant to be some kind of twisted, immersive, interactive version of a Miss Marple mystery. I remember bad accents, someone slicing into raw meat, awkwardness, confusion and an abrupt ending. The bar had plenty of room to rise from there.

8pm: We go and eat delicious Turkish pizza on Darby Street.

8.30pm: The Going Down Swinging Launch at Customs house. Geoff Lemon orates loquaciously. I see the Voiceworks krew. Zoe Norton Lodge and Laura Jean McKay read stories. Lawrence Leung proves, via hilarious multimedia powerpoint presentation, that Mr Darcy from Pride and Prejudice is a dick. A dude whose name I don’t remember raps and such. All in all, it’s a good bundle of spoken words, and the bar and the roof are rightly raised.

10pm: We wander out into the Newcastle night. My girlfriend and I endeavour to socialise further but we are like old people, sleepy after the drive. We retire to our bed. At that point, we feel that’s all we and the hotel room need. Us. Room. Bed. Sleeeeep.

 

Saturday

12pm: After a late rise, a tasty breakfast and a realisation that we were too late to really get into the Writing Revenge panel, we amble into Space, Land, Language at the Lockup. I didn’t catch any Critical Animals last year, so this was good to see. Basically, it was a panel where three people presented their papers. Emily Stewart (old housemate, editor, poet) spoke about ecopoetics. I couldn’t begin to do it justice, but it’s a super interesting subject, so for an inkling of the ideas contained in it, start here, then read Whispers and Courses and How to Do Words With Things and Wild Politics and go from there? The next woman’s paper was about Bret Easton Ellis and representations of urban space in contemporary US literature. It made me want to go back to Uni to study Literature again, or maybe just read more books. The third paper was a dude talking about atolls and language and their relationship within a certain culture. I learned that atolls are awesome and that different cultures have different elements in their language to express directions. Rather than left-right or east-west, some use words meaning upriver-downriver, or inside-atoll, outside-atoll. Anthropomorphic and external points of reference. Words and language systems for counting. For colour. And what part of the tree is the front? WHOA. My brain begins to expand, my stomach rumbles.

2.30pm: At a bit of a loss after lunch, we wander into Transmedia – The Business Behind the Buzzword. And I dunno. It does seem difficult to make transmedia more than a corporate buzzword, or at least it has that vibe to me. I struggle to think of examples that don’t seem like marketing strategies, side-notes or tacked-on elements to a main work. I’d love to be shown good examples to the contrary. The idea of ARGs is interesting though. Anyway, a few more tasty foodthought pickings here nonetheless.

3.30pm: We head back to our room for a nap. We are essentially octogenarian.

4.30pm: I head out solo for How To: Start a Writing Business. That is, after I wander around, look for the other lost people outside an abandoned shopfront’s door, get given directions, head around a corner into an alley, past some bins, climb some thin metal stairs up the side of a building and emerge into the gorgeous and warm room of polished wooden floorboards and word-filled, papered walls, into the wondrous space that is Staple Manor. I wish I’d come here sooner, more often. So, I didn’t catch it all. But Cameron Pegg, who ran the workshop, affirmed: work for what you believe in and decide when/where you work for free and when/where you stop working for free. He pointed to some good articles, like Walkley Magazine 67, say, page 25? And this: Mediabistro: Adventures in Journalism: World Traveller. It was great to see such a diversity of keen freelancers. Workshops like this are always a big inspirational kick up the arse.

5.30pm: I amble out, run into some people I know, head along to the Festival Club pub, answer my phone, amble around some more, see a street festival, meet people for 10 seconds before one of us disappears, get caught in the rain, run into some other people and before I know it, though I should be embracing the TiNA experience and attending the Big Top Ball because it’s the place to be, I instead head back to our room. We eat dinner, I read some of my book, scribble in my notebook, we watch TV and together we crash into sleep. I guess sometimes, even amidst a festival, that’s just what I feel like doing.

 

Sunday

11am: Wait, it’s already our last day? Eff the rain, let’s go!

11.45am: We quickly, eagerly, preliminarily check out the Zine Fair in the multi-storey car park. Dry, windy, promising.

12pm: WRIRON CHEF! This was great fun. A cooking competition with ad-hoc cooking facilities and the key ingredient…ginger beer! Of course. Two cooking-loving editors versus two not-so confident writers, two hungover yet witty hosts and a sodden but warm crowd at the Royal Exchange. Beyond the laughter and good times, the dishes created were impressive: ginger beer and pear pancakes, ginger beer stirfry and ginger-beer infused corn. I tasted the latter. Iffy. In the end, the writers’ slow-cooked pancakes surprised and delighted the senses; their cuisine reined supreme!  That’s a poetry!

1pm: We headed back to the zine fair in the rain. Did a slow lap, chatted with various folks, got a few zines and a copy of the first issue of Seizure’s shiny magazine: Food. And I purchased us a quesadilla, then got another one for free because they messed up our order. Victorious!

2pm: Was really keen to see the screening of Tom Doig’s film Moron2Moron, wherein he and his buddy cycle from one small town in Mongolia called Moron to a another smaller town in Mongolia, also called Moron. Unfortunately, we were delayed by all the fun of the zine fair, so by the time we arrived at the Royal Exchange, the place was packed and on-screen Tom had already arrived at the latter Moron. I recommend checking out their travel diary though. And hopefully I can see the film some other time. Looks like a good shonky fun time.

2.30pm: Went to check out some of the screening of Pixel Pirate 2: The Directors Cut at the Festival Club. It’s a film made entirely of sampled material from other movies, with a not-so-underlying critique of intellectual property law. Bizarre and impressive.

3pm: At a bit of a loss for what to go to next, we went for the one with the best name: My Robot Has More Artistic Integrity Than I Do. Some lads from Canberra have helped in the founding of a hackerspace, which is kind of like an artist’s space/workshop, but more computer/technology/maker-focused. They discussed a lot of interesting distinctions: art and craft, function and aesthetic, and whether something is art if it’s just the interesting result of an electronics nut farting around with bits and pieces of computer hardware. They also discussed how they’re interested in the possibilities of collaborations, especially between artists with ideas and those with the technological/mechanical skills to realise their ideas. Again, last year I didn’t really see any Electrofringe panels, so this was something different, some interesting stuff. Check it out.

4pm: Before we knew it, it was our last event before we had to drive back to Canberra via Sydney. And it was none other than the Worlde Famouse SPELLING BEE. See below for Geoff Lemon’s better coverage (and spelling). I’ll just say it was crowded with difficult words and good people and that special TiNA vibe that I carried with me all the way home. As I mentioned, I wish I’d got a chance to attend more stuff, but at least I saw a different side of TiNA this year, a different pace, some different crowds, some ‘novelty’ events and more stuff outside my usual writing/editing/publishing interests.  Hopefully next year I’ll get an even better and fuller spectrum, from Thursday to Monday, from silly to serious, from words to robots, from writing to hacking into raw meat while speaking in a bad accent? And hopefully I’ll get a better chance to meet and catch up with more good TiNA folk next year too. Still, it was wonderful and worthwhile. And with such thoughts vibrating within my head and expressed throughout conversations with my girlfriend, we thus began to drive away from Newcastle, and thus…

5pm: My TiNA 2011 ends.

***

So. That was my TiNA 2011. How about everyone else?

Perhaps because I missed a good chunk of TiNA, since it ended I’ve been (somewhat nostalgically, somewhat in anticipation of 2012) working my way through other people’s reminiscences, remembrances, live-blogs, reports, responses, summaries and such: vicarious experience of the rest of the fest. Altogether, I thought, it could form some kind some kind of collaborative post-TiNA round-up. Heck, if somebody else has already done some exhaustive round-up of TiNA 2011 stuff already, just send it this way. But otherwise, I’d like to absorb (and gather for others) all sorts of TiNA-related interweb goodness, be it blog post, podcast, video or something else.

So here’s what I’ve got so far. I’ll keep this list updated. Please send me any links you’ve got!

  • Phill English at Toothsoup wrote a great festival report and his blog is also pretty great and you should read it.

 

Until TiNA 2012, BAM! for now.

Some stuff I did write elsewhere

I’ve been sick with a post-TiNA cold and (just as I’ve nearly recovered) I’ve been handed an unusually busy work week. So rather than failing to write something new and substantial, on this, my one-day weekend, I instead present an assortment of stuff I already wrote recently. Hopefully a TiNA-based post and other good new things will ensue soon. Until then, enjoy?

First, if you’ll cast your eyes down to my previous post, I’ve rescued and revived something I wrote for National Young Writers Month entitled Why I (Don’t) Write.

I’ve also recently put another piece up on my other blog, Suburban Flotsam and Jetsam. During National Young Writers Month, I wrote a piece each week for SuFaJ, and since I was pretty happy with what resulted, I decided I’d continue with it, not weekly, but whenever I can. Hence, my fifth piece ‘o.n.o’ is up there, along with the inspiration for the impending sixth.

I’ve been writing some stuff for Canberra street press mag BMA. Here’s my piece on Canberra musician Pete Akhurst, and my review of an evening of spoken word, Urban Soul Food.

And finally, if you haven’t already got a copy (or a subscription [why not?]), you should grab the previous issue of Voiceworks. That’d be #85 OTHER, the one with my non-fiction piece about seeking ghosts, psychics and otherworldly experiences in Canberra. The piece is called Ghost Town and I’ve been invited to read something Ghost Town-related at a special Halloween-themed night of readings organised by Voiceworks and the Victorian Writers’ Centre next Friday, the 21st of October, at the good ol’ (actually, still quite new and shiny) Wheeler Centre in Melbourne. See the Facebook event and/or the VWC website for extra details, so you may come along and be enthralled by all.

Rightio then, that’s all for now. Enjoy your weekend. I hope it’s longer than mine. May your nostrils be not runny and your spring days fairly sunny.

Why I (Don’t) Write

In the lead-up to National Young Writers’ Month (NYWM) in June this year, I was asked, along with the other NYWM ambassadorial folk, to share my perspectives on ‘Why I Write’ on the NYWM blog. Unfortunately, the servers behind NYWM were hacked and much was lost. It was still an awesome month though. Recently, I realised I still had a copy of  my NYWM blog post saved on my hard drive. I thought I should give it a new home online here, because I thought it was pretty solid , still relevant to me and hopefully relevant to others. Enjoy!


When asked to write a piece outlining Why I Write, I admit to being somewhat intimidated. You see, when I start asking myself ‘why do I write?’, I’m not asking why I write to-do lists or job applications. It makes me think more about why I do the writing that writers do. You know, stirring poetry, piercing essays, mindblowing novels. The craft, the art, nothing but you, the words and your readers.

And then the doubt sets in. What can my scribbles and typings amount to? What am I doing? Why do I write?

It’s a tricky one, because when you ask yourself that, you’re forced to assess yourself, your ability and value as a writer and all sorts of knotty things, and then you start comparing yourself to all those who’ve gone before you with their own thoughts under the same title: George OrwellJoan DidionStephen Elliot and many more I’m sure.

So if you don’t want to give up before beginning, it can help to come at things from a different angle. If I’m going to get anywhere with my writing, I need to acknowledge and address my shortcomings. So rather than explain Why I Write, I’m going to first look at Why I Don’t Write.

Okay, so it is early days still, and although I do call myself a writer, my efforts have been sporadic, with some particularly scant writing patches recently. Sure, there are other things in my life and I can’t write all the time, but more often than I’d like lately, it seems I don’t write. Even though my Year 2 teacher Mrs. Brooks encouraged me and gave me a star award saying “He is going to be a famous writer when he grows up”. Even though I’ve had some successes, some published pieces here and there. Even though some say they like my writing and I get adrenal quivers when I’m right into it and I really just love writing, there’s still been too many times lately where I could have written and didn’t.

When I know I could write, should write and actually want to write, but I don’t, why don’t I?

To answer this, I devised a list of possibilities:

1. Nothing to write with. Nope, rarely an issue. I ensure writing implements are handy at all times, from desktop computer to pen plus ticket stub.

2. Too busy. But I know that’s not the case. It’s not like I’m working in a factory all week for 5 cents an hour to feed my starving family. I can make the time.

3. Too hard. Variations on this include ‘uninspired’, ‘no ideas’, ‘writer’s block’, ‘I’m no good’, ‘I have nothing to write about’, ‘it’s unoriginal’ and so on. But I know this is all bovine faeces. I have dozens of scraps of ideas waiting in my notebooks. I can string a sentence together, several times over. And it’s all just moving my fingers around, really. Sure, good writing is harder, but the only way to get better is to write, so that’s what I should be doing.

4. Distraction. Also goes by the pseudonym ‘procrastination’. O yes, I will write, right after I watch another episode of Buffy. And right after I check my Twitter feed. Then right after I do the dishes. Look, it’s time to check the mail! You know the drill. I end up doing all those things, but then I don’t get around to writing. Why the hell not?

5. Fear. Am I afraid of writing? Is the blank page really that fearsome? Am I afraid of what might happen, somehow? Am I still intimidated by George Orwell and all those other towering figures? But they’re all just people. And they’re not me. And anyway, even Orwell didn’t get right into writing until around the age of 25 and he still turned out okay. I could get a head start on him! So I’ve got no excuse, really. No excuse. And that’s the thing.

6. Excuses. That’s the main reason I don’t write. I make excuses. This is just a list of excuses. Sure, everyone needs a day off and sometimes there are extenuating circumstances. But when I don’t write for a couple of days, I know that I’m just making excuses. So I feel bad. But the only solution, really, is not to mope and go woe is me and give up, but to write. No matter how hard it seems, it’s not, once you get going. In fact, it’s usually worthwhile and even fun, as I well know.

So my solution is simple. I keep writing tools at the ready. I find an hour or so in my day to knuckle down and be relatively undistracted. I take a deep breath. And I write. In fact, one of my goals for National Young Writers’ Month is to sit down every single day and do some serious(ly awesome) writing, and, despite still being slightly intimidated, I’m super excited about it.

When I address the reasons I don’t write and start to correct the bad habits, impulses and behaviour, I start to find that I’m paying attention more. I’m more mindful and doing something worthwhile. I’m active, content, living more meaningfully, more connected with my imagination and the world around me. Everything deepens and broadens, becomes richer and stranger. I become more inspired, bursting with ideas. I’m making time to do something I want to do, something challenging, transformative, therapeutic, experimental and fun. I’m summoning meaning, understanding and power. I’m growing as a writer, progressing, and maybe making something useful, something that might bring me some scratch. But more importantly, it might be of some benefit to me and to others, in some small, subtly spectacular or profound way when it’s out there, shared with the world. Nothing but me, the words and their readers.

And I guess, after addressing Why I Don’t Write, after tapping out a decent chunk of sentences, I think I’ve just explained after all, in a roundabout way, Why I Write.

Balance

As I return to blogging with renewed gusto and a shiny new design (though with a few adjustments pending), I wanted to nut out a few things I’ve been mulling over lately regarding balance.

This year, (beyond recently recovering from [thankfully not catastrophic] computer meltdown, getting a cold, travelling around a lot – life happening, basically) I’ve had times where I had no job whatsoever, times where I was working volunteer roles I could throw myself into with varying levels of vigour, and periods where I was either working casually or swamped by working two jobs at once.

But now, I’m settled into one good, fairly steady, part-time job at the National Library of Australia. Which is awesome. It’s my first real, kinda grown-up job. Like, I get my own desk and everything. But thankfully I’m doing a lot of stuff that isn’t just deskwork too. Anyway, both my finances and my schedule have become a whole lot more regular, so that’s good!

So now, I’ve got four days a week where, from roughly 9 to 5, I (mostly) work at this job. But for the times when I am not at work, it’s almost as if the idea of “this time is mine” has been brought into starker relief.

As I’m sure many people know, after a day of work, it’s easy to just get home, blob on the couch, eat dinner in front of the TV, fart about on the internet, collapse into bed, repeat. I used to be a bit scathing of this kind of behavior, but I totally get the impulse. The full 9-5 can drain you, and I’m only just  breaking out of that lazy blob pattern.

So this brings me to what I’m pondering on. It begins with that old chestnut of ‘work/life balance’. I recently read an article by Damon Young  that talked about this, and he clarified the point that really, you’ve got be mindful of this balance, and you’ve got to realise it’s kind of a question of value.  It’s like “This is my time, so what do I want to do with it?”  It’s not like being at Uni, where you could always be studying, preparing more for a test or whatever. It’s not a casual job where you could be called up any day. And it’s not like unemployment, where you need to spend ages seeking and applying and preparing for jobs. Now, I’ve got my practicalities of money situation pretty sorted. I like my job. I’m not overworked. I don’t really take work home with me. So like I said, this time is mine. It’s a kind of freedom, a serious privilege, and it’s a weird, new feeling. After a year or two of post-study job-seeking flux, it feels like that part of my life is sorted and balanced for now.

Then there’s the rest of my life (the parts that aren’t work) to balance. For example, I need a good night’s sleep (I really do). I need quality time with my girlfriend and time for all the domestic practicalities. I want to write and I want to read. Those parts are easy. I know I value them (or value being on top of them, when it comes to the domesticals) but the more I think, the more I realise there’s so much more that I’m trying to balance, prioritise and find the right time for. Some seems almost essential, some desirable, some a luxury, some I’m not sure.  Let’s see what else there is: music, interwebbernauting, hanging with friends, TV, movies, video games, going for a walk, travelling, volunteering, baking a pie,  something else, anything else. I can’t do everything. So what do I want to make part of my daily/regular practice and what do I want to reduce or cut out entirely?

In my spare hours at work, beyond the realisation that a Word document can be well-disguised as important business (rather than a wobbly blog post),  I’ve realised I’m able to browse the interwebs, in the slow times, when there’s no other work waiting for me, and nobody minds.

One series of interlinked info holes I recently burrowed down into during my work hours was Samuel Cooney‘s slighty old (in internet time), but rather good bunch of guest posts on the Southerly Journal blog, including this post, which in turn links to a David Sedaris essay in the New Yorker. Here’s a quote at the core of all this that caught me. Imagine a four-burner stove:

” One burner represents your family, one is your friends, the third is your health, and the fourth is your work.’ The gist, she said, was that in order to be successful you have to cut off one of your burners. And in order to be really successful you have to cut off two. “

I’d recommend checking out the links I posted for further pontification on those matters. But there’s an interesting thought here. What do I have to sacrifice for such a solitary pursuit as writing, or any work I value and pursue? Can you just turn down the other burners a little bit, rather than turning them off completely? Can you alternate? I tend to alternate in neglecting my friends and family, sometimes both. So there is a definite hermit scribe tendency there already. Still, I want to say this analogy is flawed and that you can balance everything and have it all. But really, I’m not so sure.

Anyway, on this note, I have amazed myself lately by becoming a morning person for the sake of cultivating a writing habit. My routine’s not perfect, but I am rising early, sitting down and writing most mornings, without too much distraction, for a good hour at least, before work, or longer on weekends.

I’m still trying to read more books. That’s what has really suffered lately. I read a good amount and variety of stuff online, from tweets to longform essays. But I know I need to carve out a book reading habit amongst it all too. And that the o-so-hard (and privileged) but necessary choice is: less TV and less farting around online in the evenings. I want those things too, but I value book reading more. So the next step is making my life reflect my values.

And that could get me into even broader questions of life, ethics and deep deep meanings,  but I need to get ready to go to Newcastle today, so I’m going to leave it at that. But I’m pretty sure my time with TiNA will be valuable and that I’ll have plenty to write about upon my return. Imma gonna give this blog the love it’s always deserved.

PS: Just after I finished writing this, someone else’s blog post, in a similar vein, came up in my newsfeed. Nice.