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Final tally: 30,000 words in 10 HOURS!

In Books, Career, Crime & Mystery Writer, Island Life, Tasmania, Writing on June 4, 2012 at 9:45 am

“Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.” – Alice in Wonderland

This weekend, I wrote a massive 3,000 words an hour for 10 hours.
That’s 30,000 words in total, written far faster than I’d expected. The words just kind of spewed out, so to speak – there was no writer’s block or anything.

I am mentally drained, and I can’t quite believe it, but I now have 30,000 words with which to play with.

I allowed myself to walk into this unfamiliar process with an open mind. I had decided that I would not take my finished crime-novel manuscript (Undercurrent) into the writing room with me. What I would do was write freely about my characters and the scenarios they were in, just to see what happened…

Hmm:

  1. Someone died (who I wasn’t planning to kill off).
  2. My main character, Cattis Cull, was accused of something by a colleague and had to be stood down, pending an internal investigation.
  3. And someone turned out to be gay…

Of course, I won’t be using a lot of what I’ve written (or perhaps I will – who knows?), but I cannot tell you how valuable it is to simply sit and write very fast, without over-thinking what you are doing.

Rachel Edwards, editor of Islet Magazine, was an excellent team leader, and hopefully we’ll be doing this again soon.

If you’re interested, here’s another post about the weekend, from one of the Melbourne Rabbit Holers, Little Girl With A Big Pen

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‘How I Write…’ Guest Post by Ireland’s EM Reapy

In Career, Island Life, Tasmania, Travel, Writing on May 1, 2012 at 3:43 pm

I love reading about other writers’ daily routines and creative processes. How much wine/coffee they (need to) drink, how early they wake up, what gets them through writer’s block etc… So when I unexpectedly met emerging Irish writer, EM Reapy (Elizabeth), a couple of nights ago at a family dinner, I had no choice but to ask her to write a guest post for me on those very things. It was too good an opportunity to miss – she’s so driven and dedicated to her writing. And then there’s that intriguing ‘otherness’ that comes with all writers who live and work on an island (whether that’s Ireland or Tasmania). Look out for Elizabeth’s work; it’s good.

My Writing Process* by EM Reapy

(*Sequencing and Frequency Imperfect) 

I love the morning. The natural optimism of a new day bursting to life. I wake early and go for a walk or to the gym, if I can. If not, I get up, just have some time to ease myself into it all.  I will probably nap in the afternoon though. I wake much too early to function after lunchtime.

I make bullet points in my diary; deadlines, meetings, shenanigans.

Then I roll up the sleeves, switch on the laptop and write fiction. Short stories and screenplays. Sometimes poems come. I write new story ideas down. Sometimes I work from a title or an image. Sometimes from a prompt, a memory. A lot of the time, I have the characters to start with. And then I ‘put them up a tree/throw rocks at them/get them down.’  I figure out what kind of trees and rocks and the success of the rescue mission, the survival rate of the fateful climbers. I allow myself crappy drafts. Horrible, sloppy writing. No one’s going to see this except me. It is dire and that’s fine.

Perfection is boring.

Flaws, dilemmas, tricky situations and how they get handled make things interesting and give strength in writing; in life. Working on bettering a draft is crucial to working on that distinct ‘voice,’ you have as a writer too.

Sometimes I get real excited and finish a rough draft and then instantly go back and rework it. Hours will pass but I won’t have felt any of them. The muse brings with her a new perception of time.

I’ll work the story again. And again, and again, and so on until I get it to a decent standard. Decent, not perfect. I’ll send it on to a reader and see what they think; where strengths and weaknesses lie; what opportunities have been missed and what isn’t working at all. I’ll be open minded and receptive to their critique. I will look at all their comments and look at the piece. See what I can do. These readers are friends I’ve made through various writing projects and through the MA in Creative Writing course I completed in Queen’s University, Belfast almost three years ago. I return the favour and critique their work when they need me to.

Create networks with other writers. Support each other. There’s room for us all.

Sometimes, writing new bits, I might trail off or sputter out altogether. I file everything away, even if it’s off to some murky space at the back of an IDEAS folder that never gets opened again. I keep it anyway. Someday, I might renovate.

I rethink the old stories. The stories that I got bored of or that keep getting rejected. Or ones I wrote when I didn’t know tricks and techniques to make writing strong and clear. When I didn’t know that keeping it simple was the best thing I could do. I try and fix these pieces. If I can’t see where to fix, I take characters out and put them into new situations. I add and subtract. Chop and change and scrap and renew. If you get stuck, try it out as an exercise. Take Character A from Story 1 and Character B from Story 246 and have them sit beside each other on the Trans-Siberian, or on a sun lounger by a nudist beach or inside a Nobel physicist’s frontal lobe. Whatever. Try it out.

Try everything out.

I chip away at the ‘big’ projects too. I need to have at least two big projects to go between so that when I get bored with one, I flit back to the other. At the moment, it’s a movie script and a thematic short story collection. In the meantime, I do the other stuff and always try to keep the classic ‘work hard and be nice to people’ philosophy in what I am up to. My parents would kill me if I didn’t.

I read as much as I can. I study what I’ve read. I underline the words and phrases that struck me as unusual or brilliant or something I had never considered and then I copy them into a notebook or onto my laptop. I read a lot of short story collections and anthologies. I read scripts. I read what writers say on writing. I talk to other writers. I talk to editors and to artists and to people interested in collaborations. I listen to loads and loads of music. I watch how other creatives create. How they describe what works in their process. I am inspired. I listen to podcasts; New Yorker Fiction podcast mostly, but also How To Write type podcasts. I read How To Write type sites and books and articles. I make notes. I put their theories into my practice. I try to improve.

I am improving.

I edit an online journal that I co-founded to showcase the work of young and emerging Irish writers (www.wordlegs.com). We use social media and other creative outlets to highlight the journal. We’ve been going two years and our fanbase and submissions keep growing. We’ve done it without any funding or profit. Just a passion to make it work. Facebook: (www.facebook.com/wordlegs) or twitter (@wordlegs) We update these pages with literary news, opportunities or advice for writers. We advertise our alumni’s current projects and successes.

I talk to the other wordlegs’ team about new things we could do for our writers. I talk to other writers about new things we could do at wordlegs. This year, we collaborated with podcasts.ie, (one of my stories is here: http://www.podcasts.ie/2012/03/em-reapy/) we released an app into the android market, we launched www.wordlegs.com/30under30; a two part ebook featuring work by 30 promising young Irish writers. We’re planning workshops, readings, guest editors and a festival. More collaborating with artists and musicians. A print edition. A special edition. A translated edition. A bursary.

We brainstorm, negotiate, make stuff happen.

I submit my own work to other magazines and journals too. I make a note of any new acceptances or rejections. I also enter competitions. I read the winning works and read what the judges have said about them. I apply for creative things and have been fortunate to have received Arts Council awards in Ireland and be selected as Tyrone Guthrie’s Exchange Writer to Varuna Writers’ House in Sydney where I’ll be in July and August.

In saying all the above, I do have a life outside of writing. I exercise. I laze about. Chat to friends. Graze on their couches. Watch world cinema and trashy TV. Flirt with cute boys. Shop for bargains and vintage clothes. I do have to work steady paid jobs for a while to save up and fund my spells of writing and travelling -though I try to avoid work that will sap my creativity. I go to concerts and talks and poetry readings and launches. I go out on the town. I have the absolute craic* as much as I can. (Irish word for fun, a good time, a laugh etc.)

I will still notice what’s going on; observe my environment, what I can hear and sense, what colour the sky is, what smells are hitting me. I’ll talk about writing to anyone who’ll let me. I let people tell me their stories. ‘Here, you should write this one down,’ they say and I listen and I learn from them.

Not just from their tales but from the way they speak. The way they phrase things. The logic which organises their sentences. Their body language and mannerisms. I imagine their world and the world of everyone and anyone else as much as I can. The human race is infinitely fascinating in its diversity.

I want to explore what motivates people.

For me, I’m motivated by knowing I don’t want to go through life being someone who talks about doing things. I’ll do them and talk about them after. It’s back to an awareness of my flaws but at the same time an awareness of how I can improve. If I fail, I fail. Big deal. Next time I might succeed. Next time I might do it completely different. Next time I might just leave it to the experts. At least I’ll know a bit more about it and about myself from trying.

And in the morning, I will look forward to it all again.

EM Reapy, 27, is an Irish writer travelling Australia. She received an MA in Creative Writing from Queen’s University, Belfast. Her work has been published in Irish, British and American publications. She was shortlisted for 2009’s Over the Edge New Writer of the Year Award. She co-founded and edits wordlegs.com (www.wordlegs.com/30under30), has been selected for masterclasses, performances  and awards; including Tyrone Guthrie’s 2012 Exchange Writer to Varuna Writers’ House Sydney and an Irish Arts Council Travel and Training Award to complete this. Her short film ‘Lunching’ is being produced by Barley Films. She will be featured at the prestigious Dromineer Literary Festival in October 2012. At present, she is redrafting a screenplay and working towards a collection of short stories. (Email: editor@wordlegs.com; tweet: @emreapy)

NOTE: I hope to do a follow-up with Elizabeth after her stint at Varuna Writers’ House, so sign up to receive updates!

Going Offline to Get the Book Done…

In Books, Crime & Mystery Writer, Island Life, Tasmania, Travel, Writing on April 25, 2012 at 5:00 pm

I’ve been a little quiet on the blogging front as I’m getting my book, Undercurrent, ready for publication next month.

I’ve had a great response from my Carmen Cromer author site (Cromer means ‘lake of crows’. Creepy…), and on the Undercurrent prologue I uploaded (in part to mark the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic, as a conspiracy theory surrounding it is a major plotline in my crime novel).

Now, I’m off tomorrow morning – on my own – to my family’s 1950s surf shack on the East Coast of Tasmania, for a full five days. Enforced solitude. No internet. No phone calls. No-one to hear me scream if…

The location of the shack, on the edge of the cliff above the beach, is perfect, secluded; you can hear the waves at night…

… and it’s going to scare the s**t out of me to be there on my own.

I’m totally afraid of the dark. I’m one of these people who (at 35 years old) still checks under beds, sleeps with a knife under my pillow and has to close all the cupboards. I’m very suggestible. Perhaps that’s what’s makes me an effective crime writer?

Anyway, I wil be channelling my pure terror into getting Undercurrent polished for publication.

Wish me well (and at least one decent night’s sleep).

Monday Morning Inspiration for Creatives #3

In Books, Career, Crime & Mystery Writer, Island Life, Tasmania, Writing on April 9, 2012 at 11:02 am

It’s 10.45am on Easter Monday, and I’m sitting in the living-room of my Tasmanian house – with the wood-fire going already… Autumn has hit suddenly. Fortunately, autumn was made for Tasmania. Cold, sunny days; red-golden poplars; excellent local apples…

Anyway, this Brian Pickings post on short stories was well-timed – particularly because I’ve started working on a bunch of very short stories for a new online writing project I’m really excited about.

I particularly like tip number 5:

Start as close to the end as possible.

Full-length novels are hard to write (you’ve got to be built for stamina). Short stories are equally hard, but for different reasons (you’ve got to be built for speed).

PS: Speaking of stamina and speed, I’m putting the final touches on my author site to be ready for the launch next weekend (15 April).

Where Writers Write

In Books, Career, Island Life, Tasmania, Writing on March 2, 2012 at 10:12 am

I’m very interested in the daily schedules of writers. I’m very interested in the routine within writers’ mornings. And I’m VERY interested in where writers write. The below image is of super-successful Tasmanian writer Katherine Scholes‘ writing desk and view. I know Katherine through my family, and she lives in a beautiful boat-like house on the edge of the beach in the same beautiful seaside suburb as me (her view’s a little better than mine). Her career and approach to writing always inspires me to keep going…

Image: from author Fiona Palmer‘s site.

Twenty-First Century Ideas for Tasmania

In Books, Island Life, Tasmania, Writing on February 28, 2012 at 4:31 pm

I believe passionately in a new way of thinking and (more importantly) doing for Tasmania. For far too long, this island of huge potential has been held back by those who seek to maintain mediocrity – for what purpose, I can only begin to fathom. It makes me immensely angry.

There’s that thing called critical mass, though. And I feel we’re nearing it.

For example:

I was in the surf at North Bruny this past weekend (seeking relief from startling 40-degree heat; bushfires on the horizon) – and a few metres away from me, doing the same, was Dr Natasha Cica: fellow shack owner, talented author of Pedder Dreaming, former lawyer and current Director of the Inglis Clark Centre for Civil Society at UTAS.

In that moment, I felt grateful for the intelligence that can be found in Tasmania. Dr Cica is one of 12 ‘thought leaders’ who have received a 2012 Sidney Myer Creative Fellowship worth $160,000 over two years. She was selected with regard to two intellectual superhero-style criteria: outstanding talent and exceptional courage. Cool indeed.

Later that day, at North Bruny’s boat-inspired Jetty Cafe, I picked up a copy of the 2011 SALON/SOUTH: Twenty-First Century Ideas for Tasmania report. Natasha Cica has been instrumental in the SALON/SOUTH series; in its second successful year.

SALON/SOUTH brings thought leaders together to workshop new ideas and directions around ‘culture’, ‘community’ and ‘capital’ – all in the desire to create positive change for our challenging island environment.

As an example – and I can’t believe this is even an issue in 2012 – how about Tasmanian leaders investigate the idea of making Grade 12 the end of compulsory schooling, not Grade 10? Our education stats are improving, but still woefully inadequate on the world stage.

So, for the amateur thought leaders out there…

If you believe in thinking outside the lines, challenging the status quo, and looking forward – regardless of where you live – I recommend you read the report. And be inspired to create change.

Crafting a Creative Tasmanian Life

In Career, Freelance, Island Life, Minimalism, Tasmania on February 14, 2012 at 11:28 am

How to succeed as a creative in Tasmania? Get creative with how you present your message…

Recently, I worked on a story for House & Garden, featuring some good mates – Nick and Kerry – who’ve moved to Tasmania to renovate a minimalist-in-a-cool-Danish-way, 1960s weatherboard cottage. They love their food, so I love them.

They also live in a totally out-of-the-way place: in the beautiful, sleepy village of Middleton. Yet their careers are not suffering. Quite the opposite, in fact.

Nick’s a sought-after blacksmith and Kerry’s a talented creative director, and they both enjoy an amazing country lifestyle while maintaining their impressive creative careers. Kerry divides her time between their farm and Melbourne’s CBD for work, and Nick spends his days in his forge (on their 23-acre property on the banks of the D’Entrecasteaux).

They’ve also launched a blog, The Tassie Menagerie, which documents life on the farm, and how they juggle creative pursuits with herding ducks…

While their current arrangement seems idyllic to most, they are aiming even higher. Their goal is to live sustainably and independently – not just in terms of producing their own food, but also in working where and how they choose.

They say their move to Tasmania has enhanced their creativity – has given them a real point of difference in their work (which their clients are noticing).

To me, they are an example of how you can have your Tasmanian lifestyle while not compromising on the quality of your creativity. How you can use Tasmania as your USP (unique selling point).

To do the same, you have to:

1. Be flexible in how you deliver your message and product (think laterally);

2. Make sure you’re visible online (blog, website, guest posts…); and

3. Keep speaking to your audience as if they are global (not just local).

Too many freelance or independent creatives in Tasmania make the mistake of thinking and acting insular, of feeling they can’t compete with interstate and international creatives.

Clearly that’s not true – and it always pays to check out what other successful creatives are achieving. Be inspired and informed.

(Pics by Kerry and Nick, of their farm and forge)

So, You’re a Writer and You Want to Move to Tasmania?

In Career, Freelance, Island Life, Tasmania, Writing on February 10, 2012 at 11:06 am

Longing for a Tasmanian seachange, treechange or farmchange (for those agrarian types)? Ah yes, the dreamy life of the Tasmanian writer, tapping away at a laptop in a cool little café on the docks, or on their deck under the eucalypts and the big island sky, free from the stresses of the modern world…

I understand this picture: I almost live this reality every day, and I still dream of it.

There’s no doubt that Tasmania tempts creatives with an enviable and affordable lifestyle, inspiring landscapes, some of Australia’s best produce, the world’s cleanest air and water, and a strong artistic community. We grow and nourish some of the world’s best writers. It’s also a wonderful place to have a family…

BUT.

It is also challenging place to be a writer (whether for love or money). It is not impossible to be a successful writer in Tasmania, but my experience has shown it to be a very different kettle of Devils to what working as a writer in Sydney is like.

If you’re keen, here are a couple of things you’ll need to think long and hard about.

Where to live

If you need beach, peace, coast, bush, space and solitude, you’re spoilt for choice. Raging nightlife and up-to-the-minute trends – hmm, not so much…

Of course, whatever your taste, I can’t tell you where you should live. I will happily recommend certain areas (and unrecommend others), because I know this island pretty bloody well.

However, there is one unifying fact: Tasmania does not yet have the internet capabilities of the ‘mainland’. And the places that writers generally love most – out-of-the-way havens – are the least covered by the web.

We will presumably eventually catch up with everyone else, but there’s no getting away from the fact that, although I live 10km and 10 minutes from the capital of Hobart, my broadband connection drops out on a regular basis. I had to swap phone carriers when I first moved, as the service was so sketchy I couldn’t carry on professional phone calls.

In another example, I’d pack my bags tomorrow and move to one of our family shacks, but there’s no WiFi at either… and oh, how I love WiFi!

How to work

Since moving to Tasmania, I’ve had to reassess my work style. The way I move between jobs. The way I (yuk) network. The way I charge for my work and chase payment.

In Sydney, I was spoilt for choice in where I worked and what I did – so many magazines, newspapers, book publishing houses, websites, PR companies… should I be a columnist this year, or a book editor???

Tasmania has three ‘newspapers’ (I hesitate to call them that), a couple of indie book publishers, and about three magazines (only one of which I would recommend).

Work for any of these, and you will get paid a fraction of what you receive elsewhere. Which is fine if you’ve downsized your lifestyle and you’re not fussed about money – but a bit of a slap in the face if you’re an established professional and expect to be paid as such.

(Try not to make the same mistake I made on moving here, which was to get myself into a situation of having to work so hard, that I couldn’t enjoy the lifestyle that Tasmania should have offered me.)

It’s also unfortunate to have to say this, but certain individuals and businesses in Tasmania suffer from a debilitating chip on the shoulder. There’s an inverse snobbery directed towards outsiders; it didn’t matter that I’d grown up here – the fact I lived and worked in Sydney meant that I wasn’t one of ‘them’.

The usual methods of breaking through barriers don’t work here – and I might as well have not had a CV at all, so irrelevant was my mainland work – and it’s taken three years to crack the tough nut of Tasmania.

How to succeed

My advice – to begin with – is to maintain your big town connections and, as far as possible, continue to get work from those sources. Perhaps position yourself as an expert in a niche area (moving to Tasmania???)… I would also advise getting a regular gig/s that bring in regular money (for example, editing for academic purposes).

Although I currently receive a full-time income as an advertising copywriter in a very cool Tasmanian agency, I also run a freelance business consulting for Tassie clients, and I take on regular editing and writing work for national magazines (such as House & Garden), book publishers (Murdoch Books and HarperCollins, for example) and local newspapers (a weekly column on houses and interiors for The Mercury).

All of this, of course, is quite draining.

Which is why, if you want to move to Tasmania, I’d suggest thinking laterally about your writing career (which you should always be doing, anyway). Don’t stop looking at ways you can work smarter, not harder. Be open to things – and you can turn your move to the twigs into new opportunities.

So…

This year, I am finding ways to not have to be physically present with clients in order to pass on my knowledge/advice to them.

This year, I am finding ways I don’t have to be restricted to earning by the word, the hour or the job.

This year, I am finding ways in which my work no longer has such a short shelf life, and can be more sustainable.

If I’m living in Tasmania, I want to make darn sure I can enjoy the lifestyle, while  not compromising on my ambition.

Live Like a Pauper. Write Like a King

In Career, Crime & Mystery Writer, Island Life, Minimalism, Tasmania, Writing on February 9, 2012 at 1:18 pm

Living frugally is perhaps the most liberating thing any writer can do. I have come to realise that my success as a writer (by success I mean the amount and quality of personal writing I do) is directly related to how simple I make my life. To how many distractions I remove.

Not so long ago, extreme frugality was forced on me. However, now that it’s no longer a necessity, I can’t let frugality go. The more I live like a pauper, the more my writing flourishes.

Why?

In the short-term…

  • I socialise less – freeing up time for talking, thinking, discovering and creating
  • I cook mostly homemade meals –  see above
  • I buy less alcohol – self-explanatory!
  • I walk and run – not paying for exercise leaves me with valuable thinking time, and essential ‘running writing’
  • I catch the bus – no car equals more time for writing and reading
  • I clear more clutter – whittling down my wardrobe by half means I’m spending far less time managing it

In the long-term…

I’m not having to fund things I don’t need, so I don’t have to work so hard to make ever-more money. Not being consumed by distracting/draining money-making projects has massively freed up my time and energy for personal writing…

It’s a wake-up call when you realise one new pair of shoes is worth about half a day’s work. That’s half a day I can reclaim in writing – if I choose not to buy the shoes.

So, it’s a choice.

In 12 years in Sydney – when I was childless, free of major responsibilities and had plenty of disposable income – I made a few halfhearted attempts at writing the novel I’d always wanted to write.

Since moving to Tasmania and simplifying my life, I’ve written a full-length novel (in 3 months), entered a short story in a national crime-writing competition (and won an award), and am well on the way to publishing several non-fiction guides (funded by the money I’m saving by not spending).

If you want to be a writer, choose minimalism, simplicity and frugality – and you’ll find the focus, discipline and freedom you need to be successful.

Cliffs. Coast. Cloudy Bay

In Island Life, Tasmania, Travel on February 8, 2012 at 12:44 pm

I am perhaps very un-Tasmanian in the fact I don’t like the bush. Actually, it terrifies me – in a 1967-bushfire/Blair Witch kind of way. The bush makes me claustrophobic; there is nothing relaxing about that closeness of tall, dark trees. And I grew up in the bush – which, to many, is the idyllic childhood.

No, my Tasmanian island ideal involves great stretches of coastline. Ocean. High cliffs. Seagrasses… Which is why I love Cloudy Bay, on the Southern-most tip of Bruny Island.

This Cloudy Bay beauty is currently for sale, for $1.5 million.

Cloudy Bay is spartan, windswept, and wide. I stood on the sands of it only a few weeks ago, in a storm, and it was everything that is best about Tasmania – the mist was swirling over Cape Bruny, the rain was pelting my face and the vast expanse of the Southern Ocean was almost indistinguishable from the big sky.

(This view is what someone inside that glass house would see.)

As I stood there, a lone 4WD exited the gravel road, onto the beach. I watched it drive to the far, far end of the beach, where it turned off, up to a half-hidden shack – one of only a handful of buildings on this lonely beach.

I think Richard Flanagan lives somewhere around Cloudy Bay. His shack is where my favourite author, Ian McEwan, finished off one of his books. If you’re a writer, Cloudy Bay is certainly one of the moodiest, most-inspiring places you could ever work from.

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