Wednesday, October 19, 2016

More from Professional Writing students ...


Five lessons learnt, from a writing student
(Because it’s not as easy as some might think)

1. It’s like a love-hate relationship – I’ll write something, and think, ‘Wow, this is awesome, I’m going to be the next Tolkien!’ And then a few days later I’ll have a critical re-read and think, ‘Wow, I should most definitely never show anything I write to anyone, ever.’ Then, after a few days of self-loathing, I’ll get excited and think, ‘If I can see the holes in this work, then I know how to make it better. And if there’s a possibility to make it better, isn’t that exciting?’ Then the whole process will start again.

2. Re-dream the dream – I read this in a how to write book and at first I thought, ‘This is B.S.’ Now, after three drafts of my novel-in-progress, I’ve realised this is one of truest things about writing. If I’m not willing to rework something until it works, if I’m not willing to cut out chunks of work, whole chapters or that sentence I think everyone will marvel over, then I’m not going to write to the best of my ability, and my stubbornness may see that my dream never becomes a reality. If something isn’t actually working, it has to go, no matter how much I love it.

3. I’m my best and worst critic – As a writer, I have to be critical of my work. Thinking that the sun shines out of my butt isn’t going to win me any fans or favours. Being critical helps me to be realistic about what’s working and what isn’t. But being too critical can kill all my creativity and send me into self-imposed creative exile. Finding the balance when it comes to critiquing my writing is difficult, but essential.

4. Everyone is in the same boat – everyone feels self-conscious about their writing, everyone is terrified to show their work to others. We’re all not sure if we can do this writing thing.

5. It’s more than a full-time job – I’m not sure how much time other people spend studying for their respective uni courses, but I’ve found that writing is definitely a twenty-four-seven job. Steven King says that a writer should dedicate four to six hours per day to reading and writing. When I first read that, I was gobsmacked. But he’s right; like lawyers and doctors, you’re always on call, and the hours of studying you put in are going to show later on.

Five things I wish I knew before I started my writing course

1. That there was going to be so much writing
It sounds silly. “They actually want you to actually write and produce new stuff all the time?” You have a few short stories up your sleeve but after the end of the first semester the well of ideas becomes dry and the failure to produce new and well thought out fiction and non-fiction becomes real. 

2. That you would have to read so much
“Read a lot and read broadly” each teacher will tell you at the start of the semester. And that’s not to mention the giant readers they make you slug around to each class and set books to read. Where do you have time to read your own favourites?

3. Workshop, workshop, workshop
Apart from writing your own stuff and reading your own books, you have to read your class members work and write on their work. Give constructive feedback (even if you don’t like it, or you can’t find anything to say).

4. And then you would have to write again
Second semester, you start fresh! Over the break you have worked on some chapters on the novel that you will immediately publish at the end of the course. But amongst the workload and workshopping and research assignment; where on earth do you have the inspiration and fuel to write something new? Looks like you will have to wait to the next holidays.

5. You can get a perfect mark and you will still hate it
Nothing that you ever write will be good enough. Don’t worry though; this feeling won’t leave once you finish the course.

Five things nobody told you would happen after completing a writing course.

1. You’ll become that annoying person that corrects everyone
I hope you’re ready to embrace being #foreveralone because all your friends are going say ‘bye Felicia’ when you start dissecting their sentence structure and correcting their every word. Apparently no one likes that, so resist the urge to let them know your right and they are wrong.

2. You’ll never be able to enjoy a novel again
Being a writer means always being on and therefore hard to enjoy a book when all you can see are its mistakes. I have yet to find a good way to turn it off so try to use it to your advantage, and try not to question why you can’t get published but this shit can.

3. Teenage ‘nobody understands me’ doesn’t count as poetry
I’m not going to lie and say I didn’t write my fair share of bad (read terrible) poetry, but you really don’t realise how bad it is until you complete a course or class dedicated to only poetry. Did you know there are several forms of poetry? Me neither. There are rules too. I have to say, it has become less fun, but I find I’m happier with the end result.

4. You’ll find yourself yelling at strangers
On outings you may meet new people, you may engage in small talk and they may ask you what you do and you will say writer – in some variation; Novelist, Journalist, freelance writer, whatever. They may be in an entirely different field and say something like: ‘I think I have a book in me’. I urge you not to go with your instinct and blast them. Remain calm and entertain their delusions, hopefully you’ll never have to speak to them again. This will happen to you multiple times before you begin to lie about your career. 

5. Look forward to unemployment
When I decided to switch from perusing a fine arts course to a writing course because there is no money in being an artist, I wish someone had told me there was also the same amount of no-money in writing. You’ll need to be thrifty and frugal when it comes to making a career out of writing. Expect to have multiple jobs.

(My note: Don't worry, Kristina, with the skills you have learned, you'll be a better employment prospect in just about any job you apply for. Hey, you know what a verb tense is! And you can write clear, readable sentences. That puts you ahead of most people in my experience.)

Saturday, October 08, 2016

More thoughts on writing and writing courses from VU's Professional Writing students

Continuing with their listicles...


5 Things I’ve Learnt About Writing From My Writing Course

1. I’m not as #flawless as I thought I was
When I applied to the course, I thought I was a fully competent writer with little to learn. I was seeking validation and a piece of paper that proved that I was—more or less—the greatest writer who ever lived.
Did I expect one of my tutors to discreetly take me out into the hallway to inform me that someone of my skill level had no place in the course and that I should probably get in touch with Penguin right away? Well, I may have thought it once or twice. Of course, if you didn’t see a headline that went something like, ‘Melbourne Writing Megastar Found in Footscray Writing Course’ then you probably know it didn’t happen.

2. The ‘basics’ are actually not-so-basic after all
Before the course, when anyone asked about my writing, I always said that one of my main goals was to burst onto the writing scene with wildly abstract pieces of writing that broke all the rules and challenged society's notions of writing was. And I mean, that still sounds nice and cool and stuff, but I quickly found that there were more ‘basics’ than I had initially thought, and that even some of the most successful writers in the world aren’t even necessarily masters of them.

3. There’s a lot more to ‘verbs’ than meets the eye
In my first semester, one of my favourite things to tell people who asked how my course was going was to tell them that we had spent over a month strictly learning about verbs and watch their eyes widen in horror. It’s safe to say those ‘doing words’ did my head in—and they still do, especially since there are still words out there that only ‘act like verbs sometimes’ and nobody seems to be doing anything about them and their confusing, unhelpful existence.

4. Turns out, I had never actually been properly taught grammar
See above.

5. I may not be ‘fully competent’ but I am capable
Though I haven’t been whisked away to a lab so they can study my powerful, intrinsic writing abilities, I’ve learnt that I’m capable and that there is no writing task that is too impossibly big or difficult, as long as I tackle it head-on.



Or, crossing the i's and dotting the t's...and the g's...p's and q's because there's five things I've learnt from studying this wonderful writing course - and they go like this.

It's not easy...
I dropped, pretty quickly, any pre-conceived ideas I may have had about the learning being black and white, right or wrong. And I learnt to ignore the persistent voice in my head chanting to me that it'll get easier the more I learn and the better I get. If anything, the writing's harder, and with knowledge comes responsibility. Sometimes, responsibility sucks!

The nuts and bolts need constant oiling...
Structure, plot, narrative, characterisation, show don't tell, tighten, research, punctuation, spelling, editing and more. The's the tool of creativity. And then there's that word 're-draft' and the back-breaking process that accompanies it, which this course has intimately acquainted me with.

I've learnt a lot...
And been encouraged to explore my ideas, my values and my morals through my writing. To be brave and creative and challenge myself. To take risks. The emotional side of writing has been my constant companion.

Believe in myself...
Because yes, belief in oneself can be taught. Even though it's about our genetic predisposition, it can be tapped into, nurtured and encouraged. As a mature-aged student, building self-confidence has been hard. I've had to dig deep and project back into my past to conjure up new futures.

The bits you don't sign on for...
Friendship, mentorship, companionship, like-minded passions and interests. Authors. Writers. Sublime literature - and books. Lots of books! The writing process has been and continues to be bitter-sweet, and the learning satisfying and exciting.


Five things I’ve learnt from my writing course

1. You’ll leave the course knowing how to write solid first chapters. You’re practically an expert in this and should get paid to write first chapters for everyone.

2. Workshopping isn’t as fun as you think it’s going to be.
At first it’s cool and at times nerve-racking to have your work read by others for the first time. But trust me, there is such a thing as too much workshopping. You’ll spend more time doing this then actual writing and you will quickly begin to loath the whole idea.

3. Blogs are near impossible to keep up with. Your time will be taken up by the assignments and work load that any writing you want to do outside is near impossible to keep up with.

4. You’ll begin to question whether your teachers communicate about assignment dates.
Two 2000 word assignments due on the same day should be illegal.

5. In the end, your teachers are the best resource you have
They’ve all worked and struggled through the writing industry and you’d be a fool not to take their advice on anything.

Thanks, students! More coming soon ...

Wednesday, October 05, 2016

Professional Writing students talk ...

This year, our Diploma nonfiction students were set a task - write about five things you've learned about writing. In other words, a listicle. I think they make interesting reading! So I'm posting a few (with their permission). The answers are not always what you expect ... :-)


Five things I've learnt about writing. Funny, could say the same about meditation
Recently, I wrote about meditation - have been thinking about it ever since. And now, as I open my
eyes, groan and untangle my creaking legs, it strikes me: meditation and writing share much in

Skip the light fandango
Before formal study, I imagined writing simply a matter of tapping into a well of creativity. In no
time, I'd, 'skip the light fandango, doing cartwheels across the floor'. Meditation, or so I mistakenly
once thought, involved endless encounters with the numinous. In reality, meditation and writing are
mundane, hard-work. Think sitting down and laying bricks. Don't say you weren't warned: a sore
back and frustration are more likely than finding God or muse.

Thankfully, both activities improve with practice. Words, sentences and ideas begin to flow if
writing is routine. Practise meditation daily, and body and mind become softer.

Yes, there are moments ... ignore them
It does happen. There are pieces of my writing, possibly just a sentence, that still move me. And
there have been occasions when I've ended meditation feeling renewed as the world seemed to pulse
with wonder. Life-long meditators call this an obstacle. The writer's reminder to avoid attachmentgoes something like this: 'round the corner from feeling puffed-up with pride about an article, or the number of Facebook Likes, is the next piece. And as I've discovered, there's an even-money chance, it'll be shit.

Going La-La
Agonising over every word - or, for the zillionth time - returning to the sensation of breathing takes
its toll. Both meditation and writing fail if they're reduced to a military-style exercise. Going La-
La helps. Tackling a short story - even better, a poem - enlivens my professional writing. When
meditation grows mundane, I listen to a podcast. 'Meditation for loneliness'. 'Chakra meditation'.
Don't you just love hippies; even the titles have me laughing.

Then why do it?
There's a reason why I meditate - and write. My life is better off for it. Both attend to my thoughts
and emotions. And, believe it or not, both boost confidence. Cliched, I know: introspection and
quietness build self-trust. And a deep appreciation of life.
I'll continue to complain about sore knees and embarrassing writing that doesn't work. Stop
meditation or writing? I couldn't, even if I tried.


Five things I’ve learnt from my writing course:

1. Grammar and punctuation is way harder than you’re led to believe in your early education life. I bet you think you know exactly how to use commas and semicolons right? How hard could it be? Very hard is the answer. There is a proper place to put everything and just because you think it fits there best is not a good enough reason.

2. You can’t write a chapter the day before it’s due and feel good about yourself. The work will be bad and you’ll have stressed yourself out to the point of contemplating dropping out. Do yourself a favour and plan out your work.

3. The first story you write is not as good as you think it is. In fact, it’s pretty terrible. But keep it anyway, the idea and premise of it could help you out later with other stories.

4. Teachers will tell you every writer has a way of doing things and they go at their own pace. That’s all well and good but unfortunately it does not apply to you, yet. You have assignments to do and requirements to meet. They education system does not cater to your own writing habits. Even though you are in a writing course.

5. Having your worked critiqued will eventually become easier. You’ll learn not to take things personally and take on the suggestions. This will take time and practise so try not to stress too much.

More coming soon!