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Community and Writers

21 October, 2009

clip_image002This week, Varuna Writers’ House in Katoomba is hosting its Longlines Community Week. I’m excited because I was selected as one of five people living and writing at Varuna  during the week.

How does it work?

I arrived last Monday afternoon, stowed my stuff away in my room (part bedroom, part study), and wandered down to meet the others. The four writers are focused, successful writers, and it is exciting to be with them for the week.

But the most magical part of being here as a resident is that I’m left alone to write, free from interruptions. Compared with my normal life, I now have so much time to write, think, and edit that each day feels longer than 24 hours. And when I have read a draft so many times that my brain feels as if it is turning to porridge, I feel comfortable getting away from my writing—taking myself for a walk or sitting out in the sun.

As part of Community Week, the five of us take part in a daily discussion about writing, led by Peter Bishop, Varuna’s Creative Director.  The public is invited to come along to these sessions and join the talk about writing—practices, sources, techniques, problems, and inspirations.

Being around other writers

When my application was accepted, I panicked a little. Would I be told to read my stories out to four strangers? Would the others critique my work? If  so, would they provide great advice, or attack like mad Dobermans?

I needn’t have worried. I am not required to read out anything. The only pressure is what I put on myself.  In the evenings, we do share ideas about writing, but informally and over dinner. Very pleasant!

My worries caught me by surprise. In a former life I lectured and presented papers to audiences of a couple hundred people. But an academic paper, based on meticulous research, differs greatly from fiction, which springs from the imagination.

A story’s success depends on how well it engages readers. Do they find the actions and characters interesting and believable? More than that, do they appreciate the writer’s way with words, how this fictional world is brought into being? A successful story entices readers to stay in the fictional world and remain there, completely immersed, until they reach the story’s end.

So, what am I doing?

While I am here, my main aim is to re-establish a productive writing life. Something realistic, rather than overwhelming or unnatural. Certainly nothing like the woman in the movie Julie & Julia, who set herself the goal of cooking all the recipes in Julia Child’s cookbook within a year.

Will I be able to keep up this kind of writing life when I return home? I hope so.

Here is what I’ve mapped out to do this week:

  • Save, or not? Reread some early stories to see if they have merit. You can sometimes resuscitate a story that is drowning in problems, but you can do nothing about one that is stone-cold dead. I’ll take the pulse of my stories—and if  I don’t detect a heartbeat, I can bury them and move on.
  • Do something new: Work out a rough draft of a new story.
  • Writing each day: Restart my daily writing journal.
  • Enter comps: Polish some of my stories to send out to competitions.

What is Longlines?

Varuna’s Longlines program provides developmental opportunities for writers living in regional and remote areas. Its goal is to help create an Australia-wide community of regional writers. It supports a number of activities throughout the year.

The program has unearthed many active writers who live outside the urban centres of Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. By having the opportunity to tell their stories, they add to Australia’s rich cultural diversity.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. 22 October, 2009 6:44 am

    How odd to get a comment from you, two rooms down from me at Varuna! It would be helpful and interesting to talk about goal-setting for writing, as part of our daily conversations.


  2. 22 October, 2009 5:58 am

    I enjoy reading about what you’re doing during Longlines Community Week. Please tell us more as the week progresses.


    • 22 October, 2009 6:38 am

      Will do Robin. Is there something similar where you live?


      • 22 October, 2009 7:02 am

        Hmmm… The only thing I see is the RopeWalk Writers Retreat in New Harmony, Indiana, which is sponsored by the University of Southern Indiana. I haven’t been to the retreat or the town, but I recognize some of this year’s faculty.


        • 22 October, 2009 10:58 am

          Thanks for this. I’ll have a look at it next week. Love the name.


  3. 21 October, 2009 9:17 pm

    Hi Marsha, I’ve been having a little scavenge through your blog and have surely bookmarked it! Lots of interesting stuff to come back to. I love your idea of setting yourself some clear goals for the week and I am inspired to do same. The last module I wrote for the Black Dog was on smart goal setting (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time bound) so I ought to practise what I preach! I feel as if my creative writing side has got bogged down with the pragmatics of this year; moving, settling three kids into three new roles, grappling with two new jobs…it’s been busy but all the more exciting to be here and to engage in those stimulating conversations. Let’s keep in touch (via blog or e-mail – as you say, via the blog is exciting, I haven’t had nay replies to mine but I haven’t set about looking at how to promote it either! (it’s OK, run out of characters, see you in the am!


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