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.

Read to write

On 30th December I was at the MCG watching Australia vs India (cricket) and reading a Twitter conversation between @frippet, @AustFiction, @CrumbleNeedy and @adamatsya about the need for Readers Retreats.

I’ve trawled through Twitter history looking to take a screenshot of the conversation but can’t find it – it did happen, I’m sure of it – so I just have the note I made on my phone:

“I’ll say it: because most writers don’t read nearly enough.” Adam Ford”

Writers can find more advice than they probably need and certainly different things will motivate different people, but I’m with Paddy O’Reilly on this one:

“I’m not even going to talk about reading, because if you aren’t doing that already why on earth do you want to be a writer?”

Thanks to Jane Rawson for suggesting it, I’ll be bringing a box of reading material to WriteSpace Retreat that you can use to escape in or be motivated by. Journals will include Kill Your Darlings, Overland, The Lifted Brow, Spark, Popshop, The Griffith Review, Frankie and Glimmer Train and there’ll be short story collections and novels with lots of underlining.

When I lived in London I was fortunate enough to go to Shaun Levin’s course ‘Reading To Write’. It was a fortnightly series of reading books I probably wouldn’t have even found much less read on my own that we used as a base for writing exercises. I’ve had many stories come out of the work that we did there and now approach reading from two perspectives: sometimes I’m a writer studying and sometimes I’m a reader indulging.

At WriteSpace Retreat I’m not offering hammocks and deckings (Parnassus Books) or ornamented rooms overlooking gardens and woods (The London School of Life), this is a working day after all, but maybe you can enjoy some time reading as part of your writing day and be like these writers:

“Read. Read. Read. If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write.” Stephen King

“I write two pages. And then I read and read and read.” Jose Saramago on his daily writing routine.

There’s still some space on Sunday 21st June – email writespaceretreat@gmail.com if you’d like to know more or book a desk.

I’ll be releasing future dates soon. Jen

Need some deadlines and destinations?

There are many great sources of writing prompts and publication opportunities available, but I’ve found that using the following few is manageable and keeps me on track:

Aerogramme: I don’t know who the good people are behind this source of “Books and Writing | News and Resources”, but they do amazing work. An email subscription means only 2 – 4 emails per month and they’re packed with local and international competition and publication listings. Sometimes I’m overwhelmed by the disparity between the size of my portfolio of work that’s ready and the number of places open to submissions, but wouldn’t it be really awful if it was the other way around?

The Review Review: I subscribed to their newsletter in October last year and just seeing their weekly/fortnightly email in my Inbox makes me smile. Founding Editor Becky Tuch leads a team that reviews magazines and journals from the perspective of a writer looking to submit. Nothing can substitute reading a few copies of a publication to get a feel for style and fit, but The Review Review website database and summary emails are comprehensive, current and really good fun.

Sarah Selecky: I’ve been using her daily writing prompts for a long time now. She’s based in Toronto so if you’re an early-to-bed-early-to-rise writer her email will be waiting for you in the morning. It’s 6am now, I’m at my desk with a peppermint tea and the email prompt for today is –

Write a scene that starts with the line, “Next.”

Hope you have a good writing day. Jen

Writing Maps: Creative Writing Prompts

It’s great to already have bookings for the first WriteSpace retreat on Sunday 21st June. Welcome Melbourne writers!

For those of you who might need a little inspiration to keep writing all day, I’ve just ordered the full set of 15 maps from Writing Maps so there’ll be all sorts of prompts to help you along the way.

When I get stuck I like using prompts to write lists – things that start with the letter ‘p’ was one I really enjoyed recently and wrote about on my blog.


WriteSpace retreat – It’s your time to write