Hello Dear Readers,
The last time we got together, I had a bit of a soppy, whiny, whinge about rejection, and as good as that felt – for me, and for some of you apparently – I can’t revisit that space again because, well, I’ve had a story picked up for publication. Happy days! Such are the peaks and troughs of the writer’s existence (or to borrow from Mary Poppins, such is the spoonful of sugar that helps the rejection go down). But, there is another balm on my horizon that has eased my angst: a fast-approaching jaunt to Italy. Yes, I’m off to the land of ruins and pasta, wine and history, romance and gladiators, and the writer in me is twitchy with excitement. Why? Well, aside from the obvious reasons, this will be a new experience for me, and experience is the life-blood of writers.
Write What you Know:
You’ve heard this little axiom before, right? It’s what they told us in Creative Writing 101, and like all of those saying (Show, Don’t Tell; Less is Best; Keep it Simple), it is a truism. Writing from a place of knowledge is powerful because the veracity of our lived experience seeps through into our creative works. There is also an inherent ease in the writing when we are drawing upon our own experiences.
I was recently reminded of this through the writing of a student. Her story, which was about what happens when we put aside competition, began with the following sentence:
‘And a 5,6,7,8, grand battement, demi plié, and relevé,’ called Emma’s dance teacher, Miss Millicent, while clapping in time with the music.
A writer without ballet as part of their life experience may have started the story with a more generic description, missing the terminology and cadence in this simple scene. This young writer, however, instinctively drew upon her world to infuse her fiction with a sense of the real and, as her reader, I fell in with her characters and stayed with them as their dramas played out.
Drawing on what we know is a practice implemented by numerous writers. John Grisham, Patricia Cornwell, and Kathy Reichs are three that come immediately to mind, each drawing on their previous careers to write their crime fiction. My favourite story about a writer drawing on their experience to suffuse their writing with realism involves Tara Moss, who, for the sake of her novel, Siren, had a an ultimate fighter choke her into unconsciousness. Now, while I – like Ms Moss – wouldn’t recommend such an action, I have to admire her dedication to her art, especially as, in her own words, the scene she wrote ‘…jump[ed] off the page because of the extra level of research’ (read article here).
The Writer’s Ally – Research:
Of course, research doesn’t have to be this extreme and, in fact, most writerly inquiry is far more mundane, but no less important. Some research will entail hours of sitting in a library, trawling through texts for grains of truth, or surfing the Net for equal periods of time in search of significant revelations. Or maybe the research will mean putting yourself into a new situation.
A few years ago, I wanted to write a story about a man who befriends a homeless person; an existence of which I had little understanding. To gain some insight into what might be driving this character, and what it is like to be homeless, I contacted a local soup kitchen and asked if I could do some volunteer work as a part of my research for writing the story. They were more than happy to have me along, and I got to meet some incredibly generous people on both sides of the soup kitchen table.
Volunteering some of my time in exchange for experience and knowledge was a simple and rewarding step in the writing process for this story, which took as little as a touch of courage and a phone call. It often surprises me just how willing people are to help writers with their research: to have them along to observe, or to answer questions, or to share a story. Maybe this creates a sense of collaboration, of writing by osmosis; whatever it is, for a writer, it is magic.
But what of more adventurous research, say, for a novel set in another country. I’m a believer – if you haven’t guessed – in authenticity, so my suggestion is: go there and experience the place first hand.
It’s not that easy, Ms I’m-going-to-Italy, I hear you say, and you’re right. But it’s also not impossible either.
Saying ‘Yes’ to Opportunity:
My (unpublished) third novel, Shroudeaters, is set in Brisbane, Paris and Edinburgh. After writing the first 35,000 words if this story, I knew it wasn’t working, partly because I couldn’t write with any sense of authority about two of these iconic cities (and partly because I hadn’t found the right POV). There was no choice: I had to find a way to get to Paris and Edinburgh. Luckily for me, at the time, I was part of a writer’s group that had recently self-published an anthology of short stories with funding provided through our local council. So, armed with this knowledge, I went hunting for a grant that would get me to where I needed to go.
To cut a long process short, I applied to my local council to receive some funding through the Regional Arts Development Fund (RADF), and I was successful. The grant allowed me to visit Edinburgh and Paris, to wander through the catacombs beneath each city, to soak up their ambience, and to understand just how my characters would move through their streets. On the flip side, and as clichéd as it may sound, I was able to grow as a person, and bring that new maturity into my writing too.
Now, I’m not going to pretend that being a writer is financially easy, or that writers (or any artists) are well supported in this country, however, there are some places where funding is available. I’m also not going to pretend that gaining funding is easy; it’s not. It’s a rigorous process and the competition is fierce but, as with everything in life, if we don’t have a go, then we’ve got no one to blame except ourselves if we don’t succeed.
So, have you got a deep urge to write about a young girl/boy surviving in the back streets of Budapest? Cool; then, check out these places for funding opportunities, and don’t forget to send us a postcard :):
- The Australia Council for the Arts: http://www.australiacouncil.gov.au/artforms/literature/
- Copyright Agency: http://copyright.com.au/culturalfund/career-fund/
- Churchill Fellowships: https://www.churchilltrust.com.au/
- Arts Queensland (and similar funding bodies in most states/territories). http://www.arts.qld.gov.au/aq-funding/funding
- National Library of Australia Fellowships: https://www.nla.gov.au/awards-and-grants/fellowships-and-scholarships/creative-fellowships/creative-arts-fellowship-writing
- Australian Society of Authors: https://www.asauthors.org/emerging-writers-and-illustrators-mentorships
My trip to Italy isn’t funded by anyone except me, nor do I have a writing project in mind at this point. Nevertheless, when the suggestion to travel came up, my response was a resounding ‘Yes’ because it is another opportunity to experience something new and gain knowledge. And, who knows what I may discover while traipsing through those majestic ruins: the story that becomes a bestselling novel?
Stranger things have happened…