Tom Keneally (Schindler’s Ark) was the keynote speaker on the morning I attended this year’s Salisbury Writers’ Festival. He was to speak on the topic ‘Telling a good story’ but like a many storytellers he meandered all over the place, colouring his address with some wonderful anecdotes about the writer’s life and in particular his own life as a writer.
Tom spoke briefly about writing classes. It sounded like he is not all that keen about writers attending such classes even though he has taught some of them himself over the years. He said that you don’t have to attend writing classes to be a writer. His main emphasis was on the importance of writing every day. Regular writing, he maintained, was the key to becoming a good writer. While I agree with him on this latter point, I still feel that attending writing classes can be very useful.
Before I commenced my studies for my Master of Arts in Creative Writing I was a disciplined writer keen to be successful. I was writing every day sometimes 4 to 5 hours daily. I had written over a million words-give or take a few tens of thousands-and had some publishing success. My studies, however, have taken my writing to a whole new level of competence.
In workshops I have had to present drafts of my writing on a regular basis. I received immediate feedback and critical analysis from both lecturers and fellow students. One quickly learns the craft of writing when your writing is constantly under scrutiny in this way. At first it was confronting, sure, but as the months rolled by I learned to welcome these critiques-provided they were honest and constructive. And all the time I could see the quality of my writing improve far beyond what I had been able to achieve previously. The quantity of my writing also improved-an added bonus.
While it may not be for everyone, I would encourage all writers-and especially beginning writers-to seek out a writing class or critique group near where they live.
Today I attended the Salisbury Writers’ Festival in Adelaide. This was my first time at this festival, now in its fifth year. I wasn’t able to attend last night’s session, nor will I be able to attend tomorrow and Tuesday. Although it involved 3 hours of travel today it was certainly well worth the effort.
The keynote speaker in the morning was Tom Keneally. Probably his best known book is Schindler’s Ark, the inspiration for the well known movie Schindler’s List. Tom said that it was always hard to get published, even when he was starting out as a young man over 40 years ago. He went on to say that in those days fiction was king, whereas today non fiction is predominant in the publishing world. Despite that, the novel survives, and he was confident it will continue to survive.
He also made the interesting observation that men mostly read non fiction. I wasn’t aware of that. It would be interesting to see statistics to back up his claim.
An interesting observation I made was even before the proceedings began for the day. The attendance was about 100-120 people, a fair figure for the community from which it was drawing attendees. Of those attending, the average age was in excess of 55 with only a sprinkling of those in their 20s and 30s. Furthermore, about 80% of attendees were female. I’m not sure what these facts are saying; it’s just an interesting observation on my part. Being a Saturday, were all the men at sporting events? (It is nearing the end of the football season.)
Yesterday I had a great day of writing progress. I achieved over 3200 words including 1160 words on my novel for children. It felt great.
Some days are like that-the words just seem to fly off the tips of my fingers on to the keyboard. I love days like that.
Then there are days when I grind and grind and groan and whine and nothing seems to flow and I feel terrible. Life’s like that as a writer-sometimes you get in the zone and sometimes you don’t.
On the bad days when writing anything is like torture, it is important to remain focused and not give up. When I persist during the tough times I then have the satisfaction of achieving something. Even if I only write a few hundred words I will have made progress. It’s all about maintaining that momentum.
I read recently about a good idea for keeping up the momentum of writing a novel. I have no idea where I read or heard this idea. I got it from somewhere. I could have dreamed it up too. I’m not sure. Like all writers, teachers, children, bower birds and other obsessive compulsive collectors, I gather/borrow/steal/commandeer ideas and words and concepts from everywhere. Nothing is off limits. On-one is exempt. None is too sacred.
The writer/speaker was suggesting that it is a good idea to stop each day’s writing in the middle of a scene. Or even in the middle of a sentence. Then the next morning when you sit down to start writing you have somewhere to start. That’s brilliant.
I’ve been trying it for a few days and it seems to work. It also seems to suit my style of writing too. Sure, it’s nice to finish a chapter, close down the computer and go off to peaceful sleep for the night in the knowledge that that part of the novel has been put to bed. The problem I find is that too often I don’t get to the end of a chapter when tiredness takes over, or family responsibilities mean I have to leave off writing and do something else. Coming back to a half finished scene or an incomplete sentence gives me a running jump into the writing again. I finish the scene or sentence and we are away.