Sometimes I cringe when I see a headline that has anything to do with writing tips. There is no shortcut or secret that will make it easier or a guaranteed success, whatever your definition of that is. But sometimes insights from writers resonate and motivate and need to be stuck on a post-it at your desk or saved as a screen saver or tattooed on your hand.
In The Stinging Fly’s publication of the six prize-winning stories from the 2014 Davy Byrnes Short Story Award, they included an Author’s Note for each piece. Two of these talk about the process of writing the story as well as what it’s about –
Julian Gough – ‘Harvest’
“One morning, I decided I’d write a story, because I hadn’t for a while. I sat down, and asked my subconscious, which is always composting experience into material, to give me something…”
“I’m very happy with how it turned out. But I’m still not entirely sure who wrote it.”
Colm McDermott – ‘Absence’
“When I started writing the story I’d no idea where it was going. All I knew was that I wanted to write about a woman stripped of the things which, in her mind, made her a woman…”
“In the end, the story became about endurance. A person’s need to go on and their ability to go on, despite everything. Since I was on the road so much, and could only cobble together a few hundred words at a time, the story was written in this spirit, a spirit of defiance, a refusal on my part to stop writing until I’d wrung the whole thing out.”
Not only have these writers given us stories that are beautiful, powerful and enduring, they’ve also shown that there is no better tip than this: Write. Just Write.
Yesterday morning I watched a beautiful sunrise and enjoyed coffee and crumpets on the balcony with my man before heading into town to set up the room for my third WriteSpace Retreat.
At 8.15am it was already crowded in Flinders Lane and Degraves St – I wondered how the writers who were coming in felt about missing out on the warmest day we’ve had in months.
There was absolutely no reason to worry.
I watched as morning tea and lunch and cups of tea with cookies were all consumed at the desks. I tried not to interrupt as I brought in food and took out empty plates, and hoped they didn’t notice when I stepped out for some sunshine and fresh air myself.
There were first timers and regulars in the group – it was funny that introductions happened as we were packing up because there was no time to waste at the start – and I know that the output included 3 stories, 2 essays and a memoir. Better than any Christmas Carol I know.
Thanks to you hardworking writers for making me feel like we all achieved good things yesterday. Looking forward to doing it all again in October. Jen
As a reader my main love is language. I’m more likely to fall for a writer whose work, like music, values rhythm and arrangement more than a writer who relies heavily on plot.
Simon van Booy consistently makes me feel like I have to sit down and stop everything else and just be in this world for a while:
“This morning I woke up and was fifteen years old. Each year is like putting a new coat over all the old ones. Sometimes I reach into the pockets of my childhood and pull things out.”
‘Little Birds’ in The Secret Lives of People in Love
I love Eva Lomski’s use of short and incomplete sentences to set tone and show action with such control:
Sun seared her eyes. At the eucalypt grove, he disappeared. For a second, she was confused. A chink. Her brain reactivated. Metal snap of a trap. Cried out. He was there, standing over her, springy as a jockey, lifting a shovel to waist-height. Black.”
‘The Trapper’ in Lost Boy and other stories (edited by Estelle Tang)
No amount of refining, drafting and killing darlings will help most of us develop a voice like these writers, but that shouldn’t stop us playing with structure and word choice to see what effects we can create.