This year I slipped into a bit of a frenzy while booking into events at the Melbourne Writers Festival (MWF). I was overcome with a thirst for immersing myself in books, ideas and other writers who talk about the undertones of writing, life, art. Having conversations that make us think, ponder, question.
We are now in the midst of the MWF and I have been to some brilliant sessions. So far, I have listened to literary great, Joyce Carol Oates, Miles award winner, Sofie Laguna and panellists from Aboriginal literature and creative female writers.
While there are lots of different and unique ideas that emerged from these sessions, I feel there’s definitely some common themes that links these and other writers, like a daisy chain.
Write as a Witness
On a cold winter’s night in the packed Deakin Edge under the lights, angles and colours of Federation Square, we all hung off Joyce Carol Oates words.
She spoke of many things, but what I took from her speech was the concept of writing to bear witness, to give a voice to those who don’t have one, whether that be because they have been silenced, under represented, or lacking the skills.
Sofie Laguna also expressed the idea of giving a voice to her characters, whom she loves fiercely, wanting them and their story to be heard.
I am also working on an adult fiction book and the subject matters is very hard going emotional experience. Early on I was constantly asking myself: why am I writing this, so I dug deep and found that my story bears witness to a terrible time in our history. It’s difficult, rewarding, beautiful, disturbing, depressing, liberating - all at the same time. But, not to tell the story would be worse. I need to bear witness.
Another theme that struck me was the way that these writers put themselves into the shoes of their characters, often from multiple perspectives and opposing world views, in the same story. Joyce Carol Oats talked about this in her book, BOOK OF AMERICAN MARTYRS. She takes two diametrically opposed characters, and breathes empathy into both their stories. This takes intellectual prowess, guts, an enquiring mind, empathy and compassion. To inhabit characters worlds and bring them to life is an incredible skill and is a gift that links writers.
I love to hear about other writer’s writing process, looking for themes, but often only finding threads.
Some writers are driven by deadlines and word counts. Others by the conscious act of dreaming.
Some need the story mapped and planned, in great detail. Others let the story and characters take them on a journey, becoming the pencil to channel some other unworldly sprit. Many are a mixture of the two, with the high level story arc written with a finger in the sky, and the busy pen filling in all the spaces in between.
Some can only write in quiet solitude with the curtains drawn. Others can write sitting in the corridor outside their babies bedroom while they nap. I have learnt to write absolutely anywhere, plans, trains and automobiles.
My books are written in 10 000 little stitches of time, woven together with love and hard work. Others don’t sleep as the story comes rushing out in one big wave that has to be written. Most are somewhere in between, with the key being to stay connected with your story while it finds its way into the world.
Some dream of their ideas, some wake with a spark that must be put down on paper. Others slave, waiting, the ideas coming as the words are born.
For some, writing is calm and an escape, for others it’s almost a physically draining act: thinking, writing, planning, dreaming, talking, acting, walking, over and over again. Obsessed.
Some might say, we writers are all so different, that there is not one way of creating. They would be true. But, it would be wrong to say that there isn’t a link here that makes everything make perfect sense.
Laguna explained this well in her talk. When she was pregnant with her second child, she was talking to her mum, worried about her writing time once baby arrived, to which her Mother replied, ‘Try and not write.’
Indeed. Try and stop writers from writing. Let me tell you, you won’t be able to. The average income for a writer is around $11K a year. Writing can be lonely and discouraging, particularly when unpublished. So, why would anyone, logically, choose to do it?
Because the call to write is not a logical thing. It’s primal. We don’t understand why, or how, we just know we have to . We would never take the option to stop. Try and stop writers writing.
Relationship between the Writer and the Reader
Now, writers are always thinking, or should be, about their readers, serving them with every word put down on the page. Personally, I have learnt the more I am enjoying my writing, the worse it usually is. The more I sweat over it, ready to pull my hair out, the better it gets.
Joyce Carol Oats talked about writing her author voice out of the story, choosing to serve the reader and let them bring the story to life through the characters and plot. As one of the Aboriginal literature panellists said, the relationship between the reader and the writer is an important one. There needs to be trust. The writer needs to trust the reader. The reader doesn’t need to be told the story, they need to be shown. On the flip side, I would say the reader also needs to trust the author to take them by the hand on a journey where they can learn more about life (and usually the author’s obsessions), and maybe even be changed somehow.
Festivals such as the MWF are important, SO important, because the author can help us focus our thinking and ideas on the written form of art. For within writing, there lies the myriad of fascinating questions, statements, obsessions, perspectives, about ourselves and life.
I'm a passionate about helping children read frequently - forging a life-long connection with books. In this blog, you will also find helpful, practical advice for parents to help support them in their families reading journey.