Write. Just Write.

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.

Sunshine? Football final?

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.

Continue reading

Inspired by volunteers

“And we’re less than 24 hours in and I’m already wowed by the amazing job the volunteers are doing in their gorgeous t-shirts”

Inspired by this tweet from La Drevikovsqueña I’ve been thinking about the team of pink and white pencil-striped MWF15 volunteers. This year I chose to volunteer as a driver so I haven’t been at the venues as much as last year (but I am pretty familiar with the Tullamarine freeway) but when I’ve gone to an event I’m always greeted by huge smiles and an infectious excitement about the session that’s coming up next.

I know that many of you volunteers are writers yourselves and would love to offer you something to add to your goodie bag. No doubt you’ll leave the festival inspired, with plenty of ideas to develop, so this is a call out to you all and an invitation to take up a discount for an upcoming WriteSpace Retreat.

You can read more about the retreats here and comments from previous guests here. It’d be a real pleasure to look after you – please do get in touch if you’d like to know more. Jen

The MWF prompt

This year Melbourne Writers Festival (MWF) is celebrating its 30 year anniversary. I remember first going to the festival at The Malthouse, on my own, about 25 years ago. I was a closet writer, scratching angst poetry in a notebook that I stashed in a far corner of my cupboard and thought that no-one knew about.

The session that I remember the most, the one that made me really think that I want to be a writer, was a conversation with David Malouf. I can’t remember who interviewed him, or if there was a release to celebrate or a theme to discuss, but I do remember coming out of there blown away by the feeling that, for the first time, I knew what I wanted to do.

I had a few false starts at the writing life but only recently made the move to saturate myself, my work and my time in the writing world. I’m committed to far more than my own writing and have never been happier.

One of the things that Malouf talked about, the idea that I so often come back to, was a writer’s power to control time. Who else can make a morning last a chapter or a decade pass in a paragraph? If you’ve heard him speak I’m sure that you can hear the gentle way he would articulate this and other aspects of the writing life that he called a privilege. For a 17-year-old who couldn’t wait to leave school but was overwhelmed at what that might lead to, this man and this hour was my own session where time lapsed didn’t reflect the duration, or impact, of this experience at all.

I thought of what he’d said when I read ‘Poem’ a decade later:

“You move by contradictions:
out of a moment
of silence far off
in Poland or January
you smile and your body
returns to my touch.”

MWF has always been ‘for readers’ but it’s now expanded to include such a diverse reading, thinking and international community. That said, I’ll probably still drift to the “traditional” sessions (including both of Malouf’s) and will no doubt come out of one with an urgent need to find a table or a bar stool in a noisy MWF space and scribble something that feels important to capture.

Because I’ll be attending or volunteering at a lot of the festival there won’t be a WriteSpace Retreat in August, but for those of you who, like me, come away from these events inspired, the next one isn’t far away.

Enjoy the festival and happy writing. Jen

Sponsored place

I really enjoy preparing and providing plenty of food to the writers at WriteSpace Retreats, which includes the specialty fruit loaves from Oliver Lane.

They’ve been kind enough to offer our first business sponsored place to a writer for the retreat on Sunday 13th September. If you’d like to win a place to join us, just email me with your name, FB/Twitter details (so that I can promote your good news) and a brief summary of what you might work on during the day (not compulsory, just because I’m curious). Jen writespaceretreat@gmail.com

For you or the writer in your life.


A sheltered community

Last Sunday I hosted another group of writers working on a diverse range of projects – a conference paper, a funding application, novels, short stories… It was wonderful to listen to busy keyboards and pages turning as they worked.

The positive feedback I’ve received so far has two consistent themes: it’s motivating to be around other writers; and it’s amazing how productive you can be in a day.

While procrastinating yesterday I was thinking about this and started looking up other words to describe what’s evolving out of WriteSpace Retreat. Looking for definitions and synonyms I found:

“a quiet or secluded place in which one can rest and relax; a period or place of seclusion for the purposes of prayer and meditation” (retreat)

“a self-organised network of people with a common agenda, cause or interest.” (community)

And that’s what I’m trying to create – a place where people who love words, both writing and reading them, come together, enjoy being looked after, chat over lunch and feel that meditative benefit of giving yourself time to do something you are passionate about.

Getting ready…

Sunday is the next WriteSpace Retreat – the forecast is for cold and wet weather, perfect writing conditions.

I’ve baked the ginger kisses, packed the Gewurzhaus tea and the specialty blend coffee, the fruit loaves will be baked tomorrow and I’ll be making a big pot of soup. We’re ready for another productive day.

As well as looking after Melbourne writers I have a series on my personal blog where I meet writers in cafes (or convents or whisky bars…). It’s called ‘Words Out: plotting Melbourne’s future literary map’ and my latest, and very entertaining, conversation was with Paddy O’Reilly. It happened to be on the day her latest collection of short stories was released, so I’ve added that to the reading collection for my WriteSpace Retreat writers.


Not weird…yet

Irma Gold has posted two hilarious articles on the weird and wonderful places where writers write – at the Australian Open, on toilet rolls in the school car park, in trees and the snow and a lot of hospital wards. She’s confirmed it: writers are weird.

At WriteSpace Retreat I can’t compete with these exotic or emergency surrounds. I can offer you space, light, plenty of food and good coffee and an environment that is all about productivity.

If you’re looking to try out a new place to write that doesn’t require surgery, blizzards, babies or police stations, there’s still a few chairs available on Sunday 26th July. And this time there’ll also be home-baked ginger kisses.

It’s not weird, yet, but I’m open to looking at more venue options for the WriteSpace Retreat 5-year plan.

My weird place to write

My writing in the shower


9am on a foggy Monday morning. Emails, Twitter and weather forecast all checked – it’s time to start the week.

If you haven’t come across it already, Paul McVeigh’s blog is a fabulous source of opportunities, interviews and free reading . With a background that includes short stories, writing for radio and comedy stand-ups, as well as recently launching his debut novel, Paul’s wide writing experience and interests are reflected in his blog that reaches writers of all different genres and forms across the globe.

Are you in planning mode and wondering how you’re going to get your first or final draft ready for a deadline?

Maybe one of the dates listed here will help. I’d love to look after you and help you to achieve your goal.