Noted, Buzzwords

Noted is a brand new literary festival touching down in Canberra at the end of March (20-22). The lead-up to the festival has been super-exciting – last week we saw Noted’s Pozible campaign surpass its goal, and earlier this week the Noted program was released. The festival brands itself as ‘experimental’, ditching typical panels and Q&As for performances and social events.

Here are a few events I’m excited for – I can’t make all of them in person, but I want to give an idea of the breadth of this amazing program:

There’s a poetry slam that will see Bad!Slam!No!Biscuit! face off against Feminartsy, You Are Here festival and Noted.
– There’s an intercontinental work-swap between London and Sydney.
– A story will be publicly-sourced, so that any tweet with the #TedNo hashtag will become part of the narrative.
– There’s also a great series of Lit Hop events, as well as Ask Me Anythings and workshops.

A few weeks ago, I shared the exciting news through social media that I’m being included as an artist at Noted. While the traditional Q&A format isn’t a feature of the festival, writers can still find writing advice and wisdom through the Buzzwords project, which is where you’ll find me. It’s an Agony Aunt set-up, where you send in questions and myself and a panel of other writers – including Patrick Lenton, Kate Iselin, Lynette Noni and Katie Taylor – will bestow upon you our wisdom.

If you’re in Canberra, get along to Noted and support local and national artists. If you’re anywhere else, dig into the digital program, including Buzzwords. See you at the festival!

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Digital Writers’ Festival Picks

After the craziness of Christmas and finding the old footholds of routine in the new year, I’ve hugely enjoyed perusing the recently-released program for the Digital Writers’ Festival, which is fast becoming the event that kicks off my literary calendar. Running a massive 11-day program of events, featuring writers and organisations both established and nascent, the DWF begins on February 11th.

One of my favourite elements of the Digital Writers’ Festival is its accessibility, which reflects the ‘come one, come all’ inclusive attitude of the Emerging Writers’ Festival, under whose umbrella the DWF takes place. Taking it to the next level, the majority of DWF events are free, and no matter where you are, or your level of comfort around new or overwhelmingly brilliant people, you’re able to engage with DWF. I’m currently in a brave new (and temporary) world of 9-5 work – if this were a meat-space festival, I’d be missing out on heaps of great events. Since it’s all being streamed live, recorded, and archived, I’ll be able to catch up on ‘missed’ events whenever it suits me, as well as having access to the amazing proceedings long after the festival’s over.

On to the picks. I’ve made a list of events I’m really looking forward to – it’s a list of what interests me, not necessarily ‘the best of the fest’. Don’t forget to check out the program to figure out your own picks.

20 Minute Cities: Iowa
While Hannah Horvath’s doing a helluva job of killing the vague hope I’ve always felt towards Iowa, I’m keen to know what the locals think. In this event, a pair of real life Iowa writers conduct a guided tour of this sister City of Literature.

The View from Here
The perfect storm of arbitrary rules and absolute chance, this event pairs writers (like, you!) in geographically disparate places and sends them on a walk… together.

The Stella Longlist
The Stella Prize champions fantastic writing by Australian women, and in this event they announce the 2015 longlist, accompanied by readings from the longlisted writers. Let the to-be-read list grow!

DWF x Pozible: Writers’ new age toolkit
Monetisation is confusing and difficult. I believe that it can be done well, but good advice is hard to find. This DWF and Pozible collaboration seems like a fantastic place to start.

Confessions! Memoir! Confessional memoir… and anonymity! These things are all wonderful, and Scum magazine is wonderful, so this event just can’t go wrong.

Publishing on the feed: Social media as a publishing platform
Social media opens up new possibilities for self-publishing. I’m a big fan of the work of both Patrick Lenton and Autumn Royal, so I’m really looking forward to hearing what they’ve got to say on this topic.

Digital Dinner Parties
I can’t go past a great food event! Unlike any writers’ festival event I’ve ever heard about before, this event offers participants the chance to cook along with the panel. The women featured in this event are all fantastic food writers, and this promises to be a unique experience.

Those are my picks for #dwf15 – what are you looking forward to?

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I Worry that I will Never Have Another Idea

I’ve spent the morning sorting through the folder titled “WIPs”. Works in progress – only they’re not, really. There’s a piece there about discarded mail at the bottom of the ocean, which I haven’t touched since mid-2012. A piece about the legacy of old shoes that I haven’t opened for almost a year. This is hardly progress. I consider renaming the folder ‘Flotsam, Jetsam’. ‘Detritus’.

I’m searching for discarded images, ideas that I felt on some level had an element of animation – those things that moved me. This folder is full of them. It’s like panning for gold, shaking the mess around and hoping for some gleaming speck to surface and become my charmed destiny.

I find a poem about a comment my father made about a particular sky in 2011. I think about who we were in 2011. I wonder if the poem can still be salvaged, changed in light of the life that’s happened in between.

At the start of last year, I saw Robert Adamson talking at the Adelaide Writers’ Festival. He remarked, “Every time I finish a poem, I think it’s a miracle. Will I ever write another one?”

Having finished my Honours year on a high note, happy with my work and grades, my brain now feels entirely empty of ideas. Opportunities for me to direct my writing towards are plenty at this end of the year, and new years are meant to be filled with hope. But I feel like Adamson now, filled with dread. Filled with awe that I ever did anything at all. I wonder if I will ever work that hard again; if I will ever be so productive. I worry that I will never have another idea.

In the WIP folder, I come across the image of the slackened tongue in a dead body in a piece I don’t remember writing. It’s an image that showed up again more recently in a piece I do remember writing, and remember feeling like that image was new in my work. Preoccupation is an unconscious mechanism.

I can only show up, do the things, and hope that my preoccupations and prior brainwaves steer me toward something of value.

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What was, what will be

The customary end-of-year, start-of-year post

While these reflection and resolution posts are everywhere, I think it’s useful to look back and consider what’s been, and look forward to what’s yet to come. It feels foolish to move all the way through with eyes closed. This is probably the kind of post that benefits me more than it benefits you, the reader, but some element of public engagement usually helps with accountability. And I know I’ve been enjoying everyone else’s posts about their resolutions, so maybe you will too.


What was

2014 was Honours – I wrote a project and exegesis about food and memory. I worked harder than I have on anything before, and I said no to so much in order to finish the year with a piece of work I’m happy with. I travelled more in 2014 than I ever have as an adult, and got along to more festivals and events outside of Melbourne. I jumped the desk, speaking and presenting at a writers’ festival. I applied for a lot of things, and got knocked back a lot. I picked myself back up. I finished the year deeply uncertain of my readiness to move into full-time writing, a bit bummed about being rejected lots in a short time frame, and in need of a big break but really bad at ‘doing nothing’.

Last year there wasn’t much blogging here, because I was blogging elsewhere. In blogging the progress of a project, I found that I was able to reflect better on my work – what had succeeded, what hadn’t, what I’d learned, where I’d gone wrong. It’s changing the way I’m blogging here – I’m trying to move toward more of a scrap-booking model, pulling in bits of inspiration and interest as well as the longer things I’ve normally done like reviews. I also got a lot out of reading Austin Kleon’s Show Your Work recently, and mean to share more often.

In 2014, my working habits changed. I learned a heap about organisation and time-management, and these things have stuck. I’m now a super warrior of getting shit done (particularly useful habits acquired: bullet journalling and pomodoros). This is lucky, because for a large part of 2014 I held down two part-time jobs and did Honours full-time. In August, I dropped one of the jobs, but still never really had two spare minutes to rub together. I loved it, as I never had time to agonise or procrastinate, but I did need to be particular about how I got everything done. I’m looking forward to 2015 being a more productive year than ever.

If you look at my reading list of books completed in 2014, it looks pretty dismal – I finished 12 books, two of which were for review. The gender split of authors is even, and I feel like what I read covered a pretty broad variety of books. However, those 12 books represent such a piddling portion of what I read in 2014. The majority of 2014’s reading came from articles (and chapters). So. Many. Articles. I actually really enjoyed what this did for my reading though, I felt like I was more connected to ideas – in 2015 I’ll be sharing more of the short things I’ve enjoyed.

I also learned that research continues – writing is research. Rather than reading, making my mind up, and beginning to write incorporating what I’ve learned, I now read and write alongside one another, in a cyclical way. The writing I end up with is better, more considered, genuine.

What will be

I’ve always kind of poo-pooed mantras as being too new age for me – telling yourself something over and over doesn’t make it real. However, I do think that having some guiding principles helps to set up a true north for the ways that you act, and the things that you value. So for 2015 I’ve got a mantra.

Use it up. Say yes. Stop.

I’m surrounded by stuff. A lot of my stress-releases last year were about acquiring stuff – little stuff, most often. Nail polishes, cook books, stitching gear. Looking around myself now, I’ve noticed that I really have a lot, and I use very little. In 2015 I will use what I have. I will share more. I will have good nails and make good craft and cook the recipes I’ve got, and when I end up with too much good food I’ll share it with the people I love. I won’t sit on ideas, I’ll execute them as soon as I can. Speed, kindness, productivity, less wastefulness and hoarding.

I also want to ‘use up’ the unfinished project that Honours has left me with. While it’s self-contained as-is, I’d like to see it somewhere. I’d like to keep working on it. I’ll ‘use it up’ too, rather than letting it sit in a drawer.

I’ve missed saying yes to things in 2014, so 2015 is my space to stretch my wings again. I’ve realised in the last month or two that while I’ve been working hard, I also need to reacquaint myself with freelancing work and get back in the groove of writing more varied things regularly. I’ve also wilfully said no to a lot of things I regret – social things, mainly. I need to get back in the world after my year of being a hermit. I need to say yes.

And finally, I need to stop. I’m making more of a priority of meditating regularly, and of being mindful before making snap decisions, judgements, or communicating anything I’ll later regret. I’m promoting calm and slowness.

What did you learn in 2014, and what are your resolutions for the new year?

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Holiday stories and food

I’m having a go at writing something to submit to Brevity‘s Holiday Smile” competition.

I’ve been keeping an eye on the entries that’ve gone up so far, and so many revolve around food. Special foods that are unique to this time of year. It’s the same story I’m trying to write in my attempt – I guess I knew that foods were important to people at Christmas, because gathering around a meal is the focal point of the day. But to see how many memories are particular to the food is surprising. (Mine is jam. Things in jars. A more recent holiday tradition in my family).

I also thought that a ‘smile’ themed prompt would result in almost entirely photograph-centred memories. The times when we turn and break from ourselves, putting a smile on for prosterity.

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My Own Little Wishes

Today over on Writers Bloc, we’re publishing the Christmas wish lists of a bunch of great bookish people (with giveaways attached to a few of them, so check ‘em out for some free Christmas swag!). There’s some great stuff on those lists, and they’ve got me thinking about what I’d put on my own.

1. Renewing my Headspace subscription. This is the best $90 I’ve spent in the last year. Headspace contains 365 days worth of unique meditations, plus SOS resources to help steer you away from panic attacks and other confronting feelings that stop you from doing the things that matter to you.

2. Short reading material subscriptions. A number of publishers have a great selection of short reads, including the Review of Australian Fiction, the Spineless Wonders book clubthe Galley Beggars Singles Club. Next year I want to make a priority of reading more of these length works – novellas, long short stories, long essays. This is the length of stuff that I want to publish, and reading these works both gives me more of an idea how to tackle such a length of work, and supports the market I’m writing into.

Not short but certainly desirable is a subscription to the Nervous Breakdown book club, the books in which get talked about on Brad Listi’s OtherPpl podcast.

3. A new desk chair. Mine has one leg tucked slightly under itself like a shy child, making it unstable. Recently I lifted the chair and found that its peeling paint is made out of some kind of metal and is actually really sharp. So my current chair is both dangerous and dangerous. I want a new desk chair.


Direction. Stability. Clarity.

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Distracted listening

I wonder whether podcasts are designed for distracted listening. I doubt it. I feel guilty about losing focus on the audio to tie a knot in the thread I’m using to bind a book. Am I meant to dip in and out like this? I feel a great amount of love for serendipity and chance right now, and I wonder whether distracted listening to podcasts means that I’ll drop in on some little gem of information by chance. I wonder if, in fact, it improves my experience of the podcast.

Image source: Flickr / artiseverywhere

Image source: Flickr / artiseverywhere

Austin Kleon’s episode of Reading Lives is great. They talk about visits to the library as a kid. I pass the needle into one paper signature and out another. They talk about literary roots, Austin speaks about the texts that were formative for him as a child. I knot the thread at its end. I apply a layer of glue to the book’s spine. Austin’s talking about a middle school teacher who forced him to write, who now only remembers his love of the Beatles. I’m no longer distracted outside of the podcast but within it. My thoughts are stuck a few minutes ago – what were my formative texts?

I walk to the bathroom and wash my hands, thinking about Enid Blyton. I wonder if that was formative. I fast-forward to Sweet Valley High, Sweet Valley University, the terribly traumatic one about a rape on campus which I was far too young to read. I think about John Marsden. I want to read the Tomorrow… series again for the first time. They were formative.

I return to the podcast and I’ve missed half of it because I’ve been elsewhere physically and mentally. I think maybe that’s okay. I think about the times that I cook while listening to podcasts but can’t hear them for a minute because I’m too close to the frying pan noise. But then I come back and accidentally drop in on a half-thought – it sticks more that way. It burrows in my mind. Yeah, maybe distracted listening is okay.

While I feel bad for the people who made the podcast, I also feel like it’s embracing chance and accident.

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Dreaming of New Habits

I have pretty good organisational and tracking habits. I’m a big (BIIIIIG) fan of analogue tracking – yes, there’s an app for that. There’s twenty apps for that. I like analogue.

I just got sent this amazing Japanese organisation system, which is kind of like creating an index, but much better. This system visually places markers against certain topics, habits, etc, making them easily reviewed at a glance. I’m thinking of all the things I can use it for.

Tracking habits (reading, eating, sticking to various goals), indexing bullet journal, recipes (as the post suggests)… Watch this space.

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Brief Thoughts Regarding Susan Sontag

Image via the film's website

Image via the film’s website

Last week I was lucky enough to go along to see Regarding Susan Sontag, a documentary about the critic at the Jewish International Film Festival, after winning tickets from The Good Copy newsletter (this is why you should enter things, yes? Thanks, Good Copy!)

The film is a beautiful collage built from archived footage, documents, interviews and the detritus of Sontag’s life.  Speaking with figures from her life between childhood and her death to cancer in 2004, a picture builds of a fiercely intelligent, outspoken and charismatic women. While her intellect was formidable, there’s no doubt about it – she was a captivating woman.

I know Sontag’s work from On Photography, and greatly admire her writing. On Photography in particular speaks to my preoccupation with truth in memory. Sontag meditates on the many ways that photographs can be read, stressing the place of the viewer in the creation of meaning. As an object, a photograph is much more (and not even) a record of time past.

I found the film engaging, and it made me think critically. Sontag’s assertion that a writer is someone who is interested in everything was mentioned a few times, and I found myself jolted back into action, remembering that everything I do is research. Everything I come into contact with in the world is worth discussion. This is the way that Sontag approached her life and writing, and the reason that her work varied so widely. From illness, to photography, to gay culture, and so much in between. She was an expert in nothing and everything, simply willing to engage at every opportunity. The film was inspiring in this way.

I felt that the importance of Sontag’s sexuality was overstated, and she was painted as a colder woman than she might have been. From the film we are to understand her as flirtatious, changeable and selfish. Her past lovers speak about their time together, and by the end of the film I felt overwhelmed by the amount of people who had moved through Sontag’s life and bed. While gay culture formed part of Sontag’s work and interests and is relevant for that fact, I felt like interviews with past lovers were weighted too heavily, taking up space in the film that might have been dedicated to less superficial readings of her other works, and her life experiences’ impact on them. From my own readings of Sontag’s diaries, she seemed to hold more closely to relationships than the film portrayed, too. While it’s unfair to say that either is conclusively truthful, I didn’t see reflected in the film what I understood of Sontag from her own diary writing.

Like any biopic, the drive seems primarily to be to humanise its subject, and Regarding Susan Sontag succeeds in this. Despite what felt like uneven weighting that reduced much of Sontag’s life to her sexuality, it was a good documentary. It was enjoyable to watch, with a huge amount of archived material sewn together skillfully. Regarding Susan Sontag is an effective reminder of how alive and stunning Sontag was, placing her work into broader world contexts and explaining how her life and work fit together.

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On asserting my identity

2014-10-23 16.12.09

It’s done. Honours has been amazing, and it’s now done. (You can read my research notes and journey on this blog, where I documented my year).

I learned:
Writing is researching. Reading isn’t the thing you do before working, you do it always. Meaning isn’t in any way determined or planned, it’s something that appears suddenly when you look backwards after a whole lot of hard work. Bullet journal. Manage time. Sleep. Being kind to myself often involves letting housework go first. Wardrobe next. I can ask for help. I should show work often and freely. I have people around me who are brilliant. Creativity is collaborative.

I had to tell myself all year that taking a year “off” or “away” wouldn’t kill my career. I managed to use some of my writing during the year to publishable ends, but for the most part I’ve slipped off the face of the earth for 8 months. Instead of feeling guilty about this, I had to have faith that putting in some hard work when I’d finished meant that relationships could be rekindled, and I could get back into the swing of everything I’d been doing previously. Freelancing, pitching work, blogging regularly – engaging with things outside of my research question.

Now that I’m a week and a half out from handing my last assignment in, I feel like I’ve relaxed as much as I can bare. I’m now looking down the barrel of ‘starting again’. It feels huge, almost unachievable. The more I try to decide how to tackle the task, the bigger it seems.

On Friday night I saw a great panel talking about nonfiction writing, at the announcement for the Scribe Nonfiction Prize shortlist (which is an amazing shortlist – congratulations, all!). Rosanna Stevens talked, at one point, about how she asserts her identity through her work. This is how I feel about writing, too. Particularly about blogging. Having put all this on hold for uni over the last eight months, I’ve lacked this outlet for asserting my identity. So coming back to it all, I feel like I don’t know what I even have to say – I’ve been talking only about one tiny thing for almost a year.

I’m realising that I now get to make use of the ways of working that I’ve been learning this year. Rather than finding something ground-breaking to write about here, I’m writing my difficulties out. I’m writing towards meaning. The more I write, the more I will write: it’s always been like this. When I figure out what I have to say, I will have lots to say. I’ll be asserting things about myself and the world – how people make things, how it all works, thinking through my obsessions.

Going forward, I want this blog to be more documentary. I will be writing about news, events and books as I always have. But I’ll also be documenting my own creative process. I loved the Honours blog’s ability to trace the trajectory of my work. This blog will be both the meaning and the working-towards: I’ll be sharing my magpie moments, my little connections, with you. Transparent creativity.

Thanks for waiting for me, hey. It’s nice to be home.

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