Sketches ’03–’05

So my mum surprised me with this weird time capsule parcel yesterday. It contained long-forgotten photos, love letters, birthday cards, scribbles and other detritus. It also contained a handful of drawings from my teenage years. Sur-fucking-real!

These are extremely crude (let’s just say I’ve improved since), but I still wanted to share them. Apologies for the image quality. Each page was marred by a big fat crease down the middle and it’s apparent I had a penchant for featherweight pencil strokes, which don’t show up well in photographs.


Ryu from Street Fighter.

Ryu from Street Fighter.

20150807_082005

My sweet little Jack Russell, Zac. RIP, buddy.

Ben Gibbard, frontman of Death Cab for Cutie.

Ben Gibbard, frontman of Death Cab for Cutie.

Tidus from Final Fantasy X.

Tidus from Final Fantasy X.

A damn-near-invisible tree. I really like drawing trees. There's a very Australian vibe here.

A damn-near-invisible tree. I used to really like drawing these. Very Australian vibe here.

This is a drawing of Lara, a German exchange student and the object of my [intense] affection. Nowadays it's apparent to me that drawing your crush is the pastime of would-be serial killers, but back then I thought it was a completely reasonable thing to do. Fortunately she never saw it.

This is a drawing of Lara, a German exchange student and the object of my [intense] affection. Nowadays it’s apparent to me that drawing your crush is the pastime of would-be serial killers, but back then I thought it was a completely reasonable thing to do. Fortunately she never saw it.

20150807_081922

Close-up of mein liebling, Lara. Bleh. Has kind of an uncanny valley thing going on here. Dislike.

Counter-Terrorist from Counter Strike. This one's my favourite.

Counter-Terrorist from Counter Strike. This one’s my favourite.

Short Story: ‘Love under House Arrest’

B&BSome stupid fun. Enjoy!


At first it was a speck at the end of a tunnel. Then Cecilia’s eyes opened and in rushed the ocean of fluorescent light. She blinked at the shadowy figure taking shape.

‘Wh-who are you?’

‘I am the master of this castle.’

The figure stood tall. His shoulders were broad and his body thick with hair. Cecilia stared into his eyes, the whites of which were not white at all, but a grotesque caramel – the colour of pus. ‘But y-you’re a beast!’

The Beast arranged his fangs into a smile. ‘You’re as perceptive as you are beautiful.’ He bowed with a flourish and, with his right arm, gave the grandiose wave of a magician about to unveil an illusion. In his other hand, clutched to his chest, The Beast carried an ornate gold candlestick.

‘W-what’s with that?’ Cecilia asked.

‘This?’ The Beast thrust the candlestick in Cecilia’s face. He cleared his throat, the candle bobbing in his hand, and said, ‘I’m Lumière, from France!

Cecilia was speechless. She stared at this puppeteering creature, trying to establish whether he was lonely or unhinged. ‘How did I get here?’

The Beast lowered his candlestick. ‘Ah, yes. You were travelling through the woods when you got caught in a fierce storm. Distressed, you entered my castle, hoping for shelter.’

And maybe,’ Lumière whispered, ‘love.

‘It’s a good thing you did,’ The Beast continued. ‘You wouldn’t have lasted long out there. I would’ve done the same.’

Cecilia sat up and looked around. This room – a dungeon, she supposed – was cold and draughty. When she realised she was chained to a gurney, her stomach dropped.

What do you want with me?’ she cried.

The Beast frowned. ‘Come now. You must realise you’re my prisoner …’

‘P-prisoner? Why?’

‘You were trespassing.’

‘But it was raining! You said you’d have done the same!’

The candlestick bobbed in The Beast’s hand. ‘It’s true, monsieur. You did. Not thirty seconds ago, actually.

‘Did I? Oh, yes!’ The Beast let out a burst of laughter. He looked at Cecilia, stony-faced. ‘Even so.’

Cecilia sniffed. There was something pungent, like old washing. ‘What is that awful smell?’

The Beast turned for a private consultation with Lumière. ‘I can’t tell her …’

Of course not, monsieur. If she knew …

‘She’d think I was psychotic! Or worse,’ The Beast’s jaw hung low, ‘ignorant!’ He glanced at Cecilia. Then, to Lumière, he whispered, ‘I should’ve read the stipulations; those murders were so … unnecessary!’

Monsieur, it’s not your fault; ze curse should have specified ze need for a female love interest.

The Beast sighed. ‘Sure would’ve spared those awkward courtships.’

Cecilia snapped her fingers. ‘Hellooo? The smell?’

‘It’s … potpourri,’ The Beast said. ‘Don’t you like it?’

‘No!’ Cecilia tugged at her chains. ‘Look, I’m sorry to interrupt … the two of you … but I’m not dangerous! Must I be chained like this?’

The Beast opened his mouth to argue. ‘Ye— No, not really.’

Cecilia’s fear morphed into disbelief. ‘Then would you mind …?’

Sheepishly, The Beast undid her chains.

Cecilia stood up and shook her ankle. ‘What about this?’

‘That stays.’

‘What is it?’

Lumière chimed in. ‘Mademoiselle, zat is your ankle monitor.

Cecilia threw her hands on her hips. ‘My ankle monitor?’ She gestured for The Beast to explain.

‘You, err, weren’t keen on chains, so …’ The Beast averted his gaze. His voice fell to a low murmur. ‘I need to know you won’t, y’know … leave me …’

With his head bowed and his fingers tight around his candlestick, The Beast seemed somehow softer. Cecilia felt the beginnings of a smile.

The Beast threw back his head and roared. ‘I don’t know why you’re smiling! Haven’t you realised? If you try to escape,’ he snarled, ‘you’ll be stunned by a powerful electromagnetic pulse!’

‘A what!

The Beast laughed. ‘EMP, dear! Do you need me to break out in song and explain it to you?’

Cecilia recoiled. ‘You’re insane!’

The Beast nodded emphatically. ‘Oh, yes, dear! Insane like a fox! But you’re not perfect either; you’re rude and conceited! How would you like it if I pointed out all your flaws?’

Cecilia crossed her arms. ‘You just did, you big oaf!’ The Beast raised a finger to interject, but Cecilia cut him off. ‘And if we’re talking character flaws, I think you should remember you’re the one locking innocent girls in castles!’

‘Believe me,’ The Beast said, ‘I’m regretting it more with each minute that passes!’ In a huff, he turned to confer with Lumière. ‘You don’t think there’s anything wrong with what I’m doing, do you?’

Locking mademoiselle in ze castle and fooling her into falling in love? No, monsieur, it is genius! Very Français.

Cecilia tried to run away, but tripped. She hit the floor with a loud thud. There was no point getting up; attempting escape was futile. Cecilia tugged furiously at her ankle monitor.

The Beast looked pleadingly at Lumière. ‘Look! She hates me, Lumy! What do I do?’

Hmm … Why don’t we perform for her an uplifting musical number at ze dinner table?

‘Brilliant! And maybe I could get Gaston over here for a—’ he covered his mouth and whispered into Lumière’s ear-hole, ‘—climactic roof battle! The old dog still owes me for helping him move.’ In his excitement, The Beast shook Lumière about. ‘Do you think pretending to die would be too much?’

Not at all, monsieur! It, too, is very Français.

Cecilia picked herself up. ‘Fine,’ she said, letting her arms fall to her side. ‘It’s impossible to escape, so … I accept my fate. But you should know something: I hate you! I won’t be looking at you, eating with you, or speaking to you – ever!

The Beast looked at her lovingly and said, with a sigh, ‘Lumière, I have a good feeling about this one.’

Vignette: ‘The Matador and the Bull’

IMG_3628Brittany shoves him once, twice, spits in his direction.

Her boyfriend, Glen, leaps back, stumbles on the lip of the kerb. His arms make sad little windmills. A passerby sidesteps the spectacle and Brittany laughs, first at the passing stranger, then at Glen. She thinks long and hard about ways to hurt him. She compares him to his father, but the words falter against him; he has heard this one too many times. She brings up that fat sheila again, the one he ‘rooted last month’.

Glen’s frustration finally bests him. He bites back, lists – for the fourth time that week – his reasons for the indiscretion. It was, he explains, a knee-jerk reaction, the unfortunate consequence of months of compounding stress. He reminds her that she is far from innocent herself. Her list of follies is lengthy: there was the handjob she gave Marcus, their mutual friend, at the football; the phone abuse she inflicted on Glen’s family (over an innocuous remark Glen’s father had made over dinner); the gross mismanagement of their welfare money; her endless stream of criticisms; the broken taillight she never replaced; the way she refused to find work, despite dire financial straits; and the … the …

He is shaking, has made a scene. The reasons why they shouldn’t stay together cascade over him. The Bundoora-bound 86 pulls up behind them.

Brittany – red-faced and full of piss and vinegar – boards via the front entrance. On the second stair, she stops, turns, a tear trickling down her cheek, and says: ‘Well, you’re a fuckin’ dud root, you are! Stay away from this piece of shit, girls! Never once made me come in two years!’

IMG_3616The doors close and the tram pulls away. From the middle of Smith Street, Glen watches Brittany exit his life. When at last she’s gone, he turns, walks the five paces to Woolworths and relays his story to anyone who’ll listen.

He misses her already.

* Published in INfusion 47.

The Three Stages of Writing

Writing is fundamentally about the communication of ideas. Processes will vary from writer to writer, but, for professionals, it is imperative to follow these three main stages: prewriting, writing and rewriting. It’s also helpful to think of writing as a continuous process. A piece of professional writing is seldom accomplished in a single linear sitting; it is the result of much forethought and constant refinement.

Prewriting is the first step of the process and is defined as ‘a blanket term for a wide range of techniques designed to start a writer off on the right foot, both intellectually and psychologically’[1]. It refers to any preparatory work preceding the drafting process. Examples of prewriting range from the tangible – i.e. note-taking, listing, charting, plotting, free writing (where one writes continuously until they run out of associations), drawing or creating other visual delineations – to the intangible – i.e. daydreaming, imagining, theorising, visualising or empathising (when responding to external stimuli). Prewriting is designed to help writers familiarise with ideas, affording them greater understanding of their own fictional worlds. With this deeper conceptual intimacy, writers are able to draw richer, more convincing details. Work will theoretically flow better, too, as the writer will have a better semblance of what they’re working towards and will therefore be able to forge more organic connections between ideas.

PrewritingExcepting spontaneous prose writers and practitioners of trance or automatic writing (who write with deliberate detachment), all writers engage in prewriting. Daydreams, fantasies and moments spent questioning reality are examples of this. These can act as mental springboards, propelling writers towards the exploration of fictional ideas. In fitness terms, prewriting is like stretching; or, to use a culinary analogy, it can be thought of as preheating the oven. Either way, prewriting directly facilitates the proceeding stages of the writing process.

Plotting, a popular form of prewriting, is particularly useful for longer writing projects, as their inherent ambitiousness makes them susceptible to wayward deviations. Long fiction projects like novels can fall prey to pacing issues or become convoluted if not approached with diligence. Plans and formal structures aren’t essential, but serve as useful guides. However, some find preparation confining; therefore, individuals must decide how stringently they will adhere to plans.

Spontaneous fiction writing (colloquially known as ‘pantsing’) is, for many, an enjoyable and viable approach. It may seem bereft of forethought, and thus not prewriting in the conventional sense, but this is not necessarily so, as the unconscious mind is always ticking over, refilling the reserves so that they may be drawn upon during fiction writing. Scottish author Alexander McCall Smith, speaking to Otago Daily Times, claimed that the ideas for his popular No.1 Ladies Detective Agency novels poured out fully formed[2]. He does not write detailed plans; rather, he attributes his efficient plotting process to his subconscious mind.

Conversely, prolific sci-fi author Rachel Bach said on her blog[3] that detailed outlining has rejuvenated her writing process, allowing her to isolate the prewriting and drafting processes so that she may commit wholeheartedly to one at a time.

These contrasting examples illustrate how prewriting creates a smoother drafting experience, whether the writer commits to a tangible or intangible approach.

WritingThe second part of the fiction writing process is drafting. This is the real heavy lifting; unlike prewriting, which can take more abstract forms, drafting is the literal commitment of words to page. It is perhaps the most important part of the writing process; rewriting cannot even begin until the writer has put down actual content. Until drafting begins, projects can never really come to fruition and will instead remain ideas, an abstraction.

Perhaps because of this importance, the physical act of writing is wont to cause writers the most anxiety. In its worst form, this phenomenon is known as writer’s block, and can be paralysing. Les Zigomanis, Publications Editor for Busybird Publishing, says some writers defer writing because they fear they can’t effectively actualise their ideas. They fear their work will never reach the high standard of what they’ve idealised in their heads.[4] In the prewriting phase, ideas are vague and intangible; there are infinite possible approaches, and the possibilities seem endless. Ideas feel exciting, lightweight, because they aren’t bogged down with the specificities needed to make complex, engaging plots. Writing these ideas down means committing to a single approach – a single voice, perspective, prose style, etc – an act that sullies immeasurable perfection; it kills the prospect of what might’ve been. Unforeseen issues will inevitably arise during drafting, some of which may stem from the writer’s stylistic decisions. For example: in a story about a kidnapping, the writer must choose a particular point of view – the kidnapper; or, perhaps, the kidnappee. Decisions like these have massive repercussions and will greatly affect the narrative’s tone and direction.

It is, however, advisable not to become too preoccupied with the aforementioned factors. The writing process is for making progress, and analyses should be relegated to the prewriting and rewriting stages. As Anne Lamott writes in her bestselling writing guide Bird by Bird:

‘Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft.’

Of course, not all writers are so readily susceptible to writer’s block; for many, drafting is the most enjoyable part of the process. It is fair to say, for a working writer, that the drafting process, often full of discovery, is the most like play. In an article in Daily Nation[5], Waithaka Waihenya reflects on how exhilarating a productive writing session can be, drawing comparisons to other addictive (albeit unhealthier) habits, like smoking and drinking.

‘One thing about writing is that it is hugely exhilarating. … And, almost in revelatory productivity, the words start flowing. All of a sudden, it is like the beginning of weeping. The only difficult part is starting. The rest cascades down all too easily.’

As evident in the earlier quote, Anne Lamott champions writing what she calls ‘shitty first drafts’. She believes many writers aspire to produce perfect drafts from the onset because they mistakenly believe that is the practice of professional writers. This mindset trickles all the way down to the book-buying public, where a common perception is that writers are wordsmith magicians who effortlessly communicate without need for revision or collaboration. This is likely because, in publishing, authors are typically awarded the lion’s share of praise. Editors, whose specific contributions to the final product may be sizeable (see, for example, the relationship between American writer Raymond Carver and his editor, Gordon Lish[6]), seldom receive much fanfare. This perpetuates the notion that writers alone are responsible for the quality of their own work. But drafting is not the stage for fretting about quality. According to Lamott, having low expectations for first drafts is healthy, and helps alleviate pressure. Steven King shares a similar sentiment in his instructional craft book, On Writing.

RewritingThe third part of the writing process is arguably the most labour-intensive. Rewriting can be a long, arduous process, depending of course on the nature of the work and its issues, and the meticulousness of those working on it – the writer, editor/s and, sometimes, the publisher. A common misconception among newer writers and non-writers is that good fiction is produced in a single, linear process. In actuality, constructing genuinely good stories involves relentless rephrasing, reduction and reinterpretation. Good fiction seamlessly marries all the elements together – voice, character, style, etc – and it is extremely unlikely (almost a certifiable impossibility) this will occur in a first draft.

Although drafting is of utmost importance, rewriting is a close second. Rewriting is really the only way to ensure the work reaches a publishable standard. It is the stage where plot problems are addressed, inconsistencies are ironed out and characters are culled or amalgamated. Misspellings and other technical issues are also addressed during rewriting. This is crucial if writers wish to be taken seriously and effectively communicate their ideas.

In her immensely successful punctuation book, Eats, Shoots & Leaves, Lynne Truss stresses the importance of a steadfast command of grammar. The book’s opening chapter, ‘Introduction – The Seventh Sense’[7], is an extended meditation wherein she mourns her nation’s declining literacy rates and lampoons businesses and other so-called professionals for their amusing syntax errors. Truss represents those who wish to uphold the sanctity of correct grammar usage. For many, a book with mistakes or substandard writing is not worth reading. This is especially important with the advent of self-publishing, which commonly sees writers put their work out into the fray without adequate revision or guidance from a proficient editor. It can be difficult to identify errors during the drafting process, as one will be too close to the work, too emotionally invested in it. Therefore, rewriting is the crucial third stage of fiction writing.

Symbolism is another popular way to enhance a narrative’s effectiveness and is usually reverse engineered into a work (or at least its implementation is improved during rewrites). In his instructional craft book, On Writing[8], Stephen King stresses the importance of rewriting, and the beneficial factors of symbolism:

‘When you write a book, you spend day after day scanning and identifying the trees. When you’re done, you have to step back and look at the forest. Not every book has to be loaded with symbolism, irony or musical language … but it seems to me that every book – at least every one worth reading – is about something. Your job during or just after the first draft is to decide what something or somethings yours is about. Your job in the second draft – one of them, anyway – is to make that something even more clear. This may necessitate some big changes and revisions. The benefits to you and your reader will be clearer focus and a more unified story.’

Rewriting arguably trumps prewriting in importance, as a fiction project can theoretically be embarked upon without any planning at all. It can also make up for any planning deficiencies; with time, talent and drive, there are no narrative problems that can’t be fixed. According to Dr. Marc D. Baldwin, owner of Edit 911, a business staffed entirely by PhD-holding editors, rewriting is crucial for chipping away extraneous details and strengthening constructions.[9]

Busybird Publications Editor Les Zigomanis wrote in his article ‘Writers Write: The Ten Commandments of Writing (Maybe)’[10]:

‘If there’s one nifty comparison [to writing], it’s more like sculpting. The shape’s in the stone. It’s about chiselling to get that shape as right as you can.’

Stephen King shared a similar belief in an interview with Writer’s Digest:

‘When the story is ready for rewrite, cut it to the bone. Get rid of every ounce of excess fat. This is going to hurt; revising a story down to the bare essentials is always a little like murdering children, but it must be done.’[11]

To summarise: rewriting is the stage where redundancies are removed; the writer scours their manuscript for anything problematic, and strengthens their ideas and communication in order to tell their tale in the most efficient and economic way.

Prewriting, writing and rewriting are hugely beneficial steps to good fiction writing. Writers would do well to implement all three into their working process.


Bibliography

  • King, S 2000, On Writing, Scribner, New York.
  • Lamott, A 2008, Bird by Bird, Scribe Publishing, Carlton North.
  • Truss, L 2003, Eats, Shoots & Leaves, Profile Books Ltd, Great Britain.
  • Zigomanis, L 2011, ‘Writers Write: The Ten Commandments of Writing (Maybe)’, Page Seventeen, 9, June 2011, pp. 25–30.

Sources

[1] ‘Prewriting’ n.d., Thompson Writing Program, Duke University

[2] Smith, C 2014, ‘Novel Ideas: Alexander McCall Smith Interview’, Otago Daily Times

[3] Aaron, R 2011, ‘How I Went from Writing 2,000 to 10,000 Words a Day’, Pretentious Title

[4] Zigomanis, L 2014, ‘Ten Excuses’, Busybird Publishing

[5] Waihenya, W 2013, ‘One thing about writing is that it is hugely exhilarating’, Daily Nation

[6] Wood, G 2009, ‘Raymond Carver: the kindest cut’, The Guardian

[7] Truss, L 2003, ‘Introduction – The Seventh Sense’, Eats, Shoots & Leaves

[8] King, S 2000, On Writing, Scribner

[9] Baldwin, Dr. M n.d., ‘Book Editing by Published Authors’, Edit911.com

[10] Zigomanis, L 2011, ‘Writers Write: The Ten Commandments of Writing (Maybe)’, Page Seventeen

[11] Petit, Z 2012, ‘13 Stephen King Quotes on Writing’, Writer’s Digest

Marinating in Bile: A Document of Social Anxiety and Student Frustration

 * This post was originally written in February ’14. See postscript for rationale.

Early last year, I made a joking self-comparison with the misanthropic protagonist of Dostoevsky’s Notes from Underground. It was during one of those exhaustive around-the-room introduction exchanges that tend to fill first weeks at uni. I was nervous, and hoped my quip would come across in its intended context. What I said, unintentionally, and to a roomful of people, was ‘I hate people’; what I’d meant was that I begrudgingly own social awkwardness as a defining characteristic and generally disdain small talk. You know: haha, self-deprecation!

Needless to say, the joke landed with a thud. Why am I (paraphrastically) retelling it now? Because bitterness colours this post. I hope to come across charmingly cynical, like Bernard from Black Books, or Dr House from House, but, as in the earlier example, will probably come across as more of a miserable git, ala Morrissey or Robert Smith. But, look, it does say ‘rants’ up there in my blog banner, and to be honest that’s a quota I don’t feel I’ve adequately filled. I originally wrote most of this back in February 2014, but chose to sit on it for fear of reproach. Consequently, this one’s been marinating in bile all year. I’m no chef, but feel it’s probably ready now. (No one wants their rants overcooked. Or their introductions overlong …)

We’ll start big. I generally hate everything about modern Western culture. I hate most everything on TV; I hate inconsiderate people (i.e. most of Melbourne’s population); I hate the inane things people say to fill a quiet; I hate asinine internet slang (‘Cool story, bro’, ‘Still a better love story than Twilight’, etc); I hate the wide misuse of ‘literally’; I hate the liberal overuse of ‘hate’; I hate people who contradict themselves (geddit?); I hate my multitude of shortcomings. I could probably rewrite ‘My Favourite Things’, with the sources of my ire replacing the objects of Julie Andrews’ affection. Incidentally, I also hate The Sound of Music.

I don’t hate everything, though. Miserable Brit-Pop’s all right.

Anyway, here’s a vitriolic, overdue post about my disillusioning final years of study.

 * * *

What’s bothering me lately (or at least at the time I originally wrote this) is the sense of apathy pervading my higher ed writing course. Very few students seem to give a fuck about their work, which lowers the bar and standard of education. Most, it seems, are there purely for something to do, or to satisfy abstract, romanticised notions about what it means to be a writer. They groan when appointed trivial 2,000-word essays (less than a day’s work, according to King!), despite having upwards of four weeks to compose them, and resent the ambitious semester-long creative projects, even though the curriculum writers have made every effort to accommodate our vastly different interests. There’s a lot of narrow-mindedness in my course. How can a writer meet the conceptualisation and design of a magazine (on which we’re given complete creative freedom) with anything but celebration? How can a writer find studying works by the world’s most influential short story writers a chore? What could be more valuable than listening to the personalised advice of professional guest speakers? I just don’t get it.

Before I get too carried away, I must clarify that I’m speaking generally; there are certainly some good eggs in class who make thoughtful, enthusiastic contributions and show engagement with the material. Even the apathetic students deserve some credit, for they will intermittently switch on whenever snippets of lecture personally engage them. I must also stress that the apathy I’ve perceived is no fault of the teachers or institution, as I generally believe the quality of my education is of a high standard. Frankly, this ennui is something that has infiltrated at a cultural level. It could even be a generational thing. My course is an interesting microcosm, but I shan’t go down that rabbit hole.

Since I’m talking in annoying abstracts (another pet hate), I should, for illustrative purposes, give an example of this apathy. At the start of the year, one of our teachers asked for a show of hands from those who’d gotten writing done over the ridiculous three-month break. Only six in a class of over twenty self-identified ‘writers’ raised their hands. Their excuses were thin – family, holidays, ‘it was a hot summer’. Unacceptable. If you’ve the will to write, it’ll happen. All it takes is self-sacrifice. Anyone can substitute fifteen minutes of daily television time to write. Three months at that pace and progress is inevitable. My classmates simply lost direction, which isn’t good enough. What kind of writer needs course-imposed deadlines to work? At our level, we should be writing for the inherent joy of it.

Another common attitude I hear is: ‘I’m not interested in the publishing side of things; I just want to write!’ This irks me because these students enrolled – at fair expense – to do a degree in Writing and Publishing. If creative writing’s their sole vocational interest, why not join a writers’ group, or enrol in one of Melbourne’s innumerable creative writing short courses? The publishing aspect is what makes this degree so progressive. Even if we don’t want a career in publishing, it’s beneficial to learn as much as possible about the larger book-making process.

We’ve had a few new teachers this year, many of whom weren’t accustomed to our group’s sarcastic disposition, or our collective indifference. It amused and disappointed me seeing the change in these teachers’ manners; they understood they’d have to prise answers from us, that it would take a tap dance and firework display to hold our interest. Some of these teachers are sessional and it embarrasses me that we’ve negatively informed their perceptions of students from this institution. ‘Writing class of ’14? Yeah, yeah, I remember: the ones who didn’t give a fuck.’

In case it sounds like I have some unchecked (and, believe me, unjustified) superiority complex, I’ll confess that I’m not entirely innocent of this behaviour. My mind readily wanders when I feel unstimulated. I’m perpetually sleep-deprived and having internet-enabled laptops at our disposal is a terrible temptation. I don’t fault the teachers or coursework; eight hours is just a long time to have to sit with sustained focus – especially for me, as an introvert, since socialising tends to drain rather than energise me.

Another triviality: static class environments don’t help. My last campus was multi-levelled, and attending classes meant ping-ponging around it, forever changing environments. Different rooms gave the lectures different flavours (perhaps why Myths and Symbols felt as oppressive as high school history class). In our current situation, we’re entombed in the same room for all four classes. Granted, it’s a lavish, open room with natural lighting and great acoustics, but being rooted to any one spot inspires stir-craziness.

I don’t mean to throw my fellow students under the bus but, for many of them, their problems come down to ill-defined goals. (Another reason I champion list writing.) They have no idea what they want out of the course. They’ve not thought about where they’ll fit within the industry post-qualification and therefore can’t visualise applying the taught knowledge in a real-world setting. Many want to be professional writers, but have no interest in the practical implications of this. They don’t care about establishing a professional writing schedule, keeping abreast of industry developments, playing the networking game or engaging with the literary community. They don’t submit to journals, or read widely, and they drag their heels if appointed tasks that don’t align with their narrow personal interests.

To make matters worse, many students make shallow, obvious contributions to class discussions. We discuss things that third or fourth-year publishing students should know. I must be an anarchist for publishing this, but most of the time, during class discussions, I feel unstimulated, deflated.

I’ve technically studied writing at three different campuses, with three different batches of people, so feel qualified to speak on the differences in attitudes, as least as I’ve perceived them. The first campus experience was a false start: I was young, green, and not at all ready for the Real World. Despite this, I recall spirited, stimulating discussion between students. I was somewhat spoiled at the second campus, for my time was spent alongside generally kind, enthusiastic, switched-on writers. Since then, however, I’ve been stuck with know-it-alls, antagonistic liberals and serial complainers. (Generally speaking, of course – I can’t, in good conscience, lump everyone in these categories.)

I don’t mean to sound pigheaded. I appreciate that people approach study for different reasons. I understand we’re at different levels and have different goals. But this is supposed to be adult education and I’m getting too old for high school theatrics. Case in point: earlier this year there was an ongoing feud between parties with different ideologies. One, boisterous and unyielding, was clearly at fault, but the actions of the so-called innocent party blurred this line. At every intermission, the class degenerated into gossip-mongering. Being privy to their private nastiness, I shuddered to think how the offending party (however unworthy of sympathy) must have felt entering a classroom that charged with vitriol. It makes me wonder what some of them think of me. I rarely engage socially, so it’s amusing to wonder what conclusions might’ve been drawn about my manner or competencies.

I’m digressing. But you see what a circus life on campus can be. I want to join a writers’ group in the future, and am hoping (praying!) to find one that’s a good fit. I’d love to find people with whom I could have a laugh, but more importantly I want to be around likeminded writers who are serious about their craft and who conduct themselves with professionalism. Is that too much to ask?

* This post was originally written in February, and does not reflect my current feelings about my former peers, or my overall study experience. I’m posting it despite the attitude change because I feel it’s an honest documentation of my frustrations at the time. This was a generally difficult year for me, and I’ve often turned to writing to process some of these challenges. I want my blog to be honest and truthful, and feel it’s important to share posts like these, even if they embarrass me and even if I’m afraid of the consequences.

For fans of happy endings, it’s worth noting that the year got better as it went along. A lot of students – notably the more difficult personalities – dropped out or stopped attending classes. Those that remained demonstrated ample commitment to their craft, and throughout the year I made more of an effort to get to know them. Overall, despite numerous unmentioned challenges native to the institution, this was an enjoyable and productive year. I think it’s important to own and process our uglier emotions (lest they fester). Perhaps that’s why I find boxing and writing so cathartic. But, hey, so now you know I’m a massive jerk. Where to from here?

Review: Page Seventeen Issue Eleven

p17issue11coverPage Seventeen returns from its hiatus with its eleventh issue and a new, glossier format. There’s clear emphasis on the new, as editor Beau Hillier invites you to abandon stuffy old front-to-back linear reading in favour of a novel pathway system. (Think those Choose Your Own Adventure books you read as a child.) This small touch personalises the reading experience, allowing you to shape the overarching narrative in a small way.

But, of course, what you really want to know about are the stories. Kathy George’s opener ‘Blessed are the cracked …’ takes a lateral look at the nature of creativity, demonstrating the sometimes obtuse ways artists find inspiration. (For more on this topic, check out the Busybird website, where Page Seventeen contributors were invited to share their processes or anecdotes which have inspired their work. Mine is reproduced on this blog here.)

In ‘A step back in time’, James May takes a soul-searching trip back to his hometown of Adelaide, seeking answers, catharsis and a new perspective. This was a visceral piece, full of grit and longing.

With ‘Protest’, Beverley Lello crafts an exquisite literary tale about acceptance and marital dissonance. Meanwhile, Lois Murphy’s standout ‘Mosquito bites’ tells a ripping yarn about a likeable-but-downtrodden young man with an addition to his already-lengthy list of mistakes: allowing his loved ones to believe he is dead. The story starts with a memorable one-two punch – ‘We were pretty pissed off when my cousin showed up at his own funeral. All that effort, those wasted tears.’ – and takes several unforeseen turns, with the cousin cutting an unexpectedly tragic figure.

In ‘Onshore, offshore, unsure’, Eril Riley uses poetic language to tell of one family’s traumatic struggle for asylum. Hemmed in body-to-body with other survivors, the protagonist waxes philosophical while enduring discomforts like urinating in a battered metal drum. This story made me appreciate the freedom and luxuries we take for granted.

Other highlights include Joshua Coldwell’s ‘Swan song’, a black comedy about a young man’s obsession to uphold the family legacy (by imparting witty or memorable last words), and Geraldine Borella’s ‘Achilles and the maple leaf’, a tale of unlikely friendship, and a touching reminder that sometimes the universe smiles upon us, bringing people into our lives precisely when we need them.

Warwick Sprawson continues to impress with ‘Spin’, a tension-filled casino story about a dealer with a sizeable (ahem) chip on his shoulder.

There’s also a veritable smorgasbord of poetry – much of it esoteric, all of it thought-provoking. I’ve never had much of an ear for poetry, but particularly enjoyed Katherine E Seppings’ quiet, assured ‘Seville’; Paul South’s perplexing ‘No sense’; and Jude Aquilina’s ‘Love suffers’, which begins:

Love suffers from a plague of clichés.
It claims to gleam like a bolt
of silken sun through winter cloud
but actually, it’s sharp and quick
like a tattooing needle.

Page Seventeen Issue Eleven is available for purchase here.

A Day in the Life – 30/10/14

Free-writing today, because I fear the muscle will atrophy if I don’t get into a daily habit.

© Gracie Cannell, flickr.com

© Gracie Cannell, flickr.com

First week of job hunting’s almost over. No takers yet, but I’m told these things take time. I have, at least, been placed on a few freelancer databases – which I’m taking as a positive sign, though it’s probably just routine response for publishers dealing with cold-calling editors. I’m considering free content writing while I await the coveted call-back. Much as I loathe the exploitation pervading this industry, I think it’ll help me build a diverse portfolio of non-fiction writing (presently most of my published work is fiction). I also want a project to sink my teeth into. I spend a lot of time on my own, and tend to succumb to depression if I don’t have a distraction, something stimulating to work on.

I love you, Anne Hegerty!

I love you, Anne Hegerty!

(Here’s an embarrassing admission: my weekdays presently revolve around my daytime TV schedule. I daily tune in for Yu-Gi-Oh! [for nostalgia], Dr Phil [for morbidity] and The Chase [for entertainment/Old Frosty Knickers]. Obviously this can’t go on, though on particularly stagnant days these shows are all the daily happiness I get. The real cause for concern will be if I start watching TMZ.)

Anyway, my current priorities are: continue to apply for jobs; write various commissioned non-fiction articles (i.e. fitness-related, mental health-related, music-related, advertising stuff …); commence work on an interactive CV/writing portfolio, to keep on top of InDesign and to have something to direct prospective employers to; redesign blog; give NaNo another crack; and, finally, finish the numerous WIP blog posts that are scattered all over my desktop.

To combat the aforementioned depression, I’m resolving to interact with at least one human being a day. Interactions can include small-talk with shopkeepers, which I am famously awful at.

Yesterday I made the fairly spontaneous decision to visit Busybird, the publishing house where I once interned. It ended up being a great day. I was able to complete some internet research (in service of getting a job), and I had actual conversation using actual human words (English, I think). I proposed to my former employers that I might come in once a week during this (hopefully brief) tenure of unemployment, so that I might enjoy their wonderful creative space, use them as sounding boards and help out as necessary. Perhaps I could start referring to myself as the unofficial writer in residence. Could even wear a badge. Either way, it sure is great to be around creative people, kind people. I learnt a valuable lesson from those long winters of self-imposed social isolation (eight-week mid-semester breaks … brrrr!), so am endeavouring to get out more and see people.

Today I went to my old school (the one I finished up at last week) for a catch-up brunch/coffee thing (at which I had neither brunch, nor coffee). It was lovely. Even though I’ve endured – and continue to endure – a horrendous viral infection, it was still great to get away from my various neuroses and laugh, talk and listen to others. One friend, whose selflessness I’ve grown to adore, is also battling flu-like symptoms. Shaking hers is imperative for she’s leaving for Fiji next week. Another friend told me about all the difficulties her and her partner have gone through these past few years. They’ve had a lot of bad luck, and a long string of financial and familial disappointments. My heart goes out to them. I get the sense they’d be happy if the universe would only give them a much-deserved break. The third friend is going really well, with an impressive writing-related internship and some fortuitous part-time creative work. She brought her brilliant poodle with her, and seems in good stead for the next year. I’m hopeful these catch-ups can continue into the New Year, as I find I come away from them in a much better headspace.

Also while at school, I decided I won’t be going to my graduation ceremony. Despite this post, I’m not especially sentimental, and so ultimately deemed it not worth the money. Can anyone who’s completed long-term study weigh in on this? Do you think I’ll regret it? belljarAnyway, now that I’ve finished The Bell Jar (not the best book to read when you’re straddling depression), I’m ready to begin my friend’s novel, which I’ve been looking forward to for some time. Is there anything you’d like to share about your day, readers? I’d love to hear it. What challenges have you overcome? What are you grateful for?