Joining NaPoWriMo

April is NaPoWriMo, or National Poetry Writing Month – the poetic equivalent of NaNoWriMo. This project is a marathon challenge to write a poem every day throughout April. By the end of April, participants should have 30 poems.

Kate Larsen, director of Writers Victoria, wrote an article about NaPoWriMo for ArtsHub, which I came across this morning.

Image source: Flickr / Pankaj

Image source: Flickr / Pankaj

Recently a poem came to me when I was walking down the street. It struck me in that “sent by the Muses” way that infuriates me, because it goes against my everyday sit-down-and-do-the-things approach. It frustrates me that I put in hard work and get nothing sometimes, though most of the time it’s just fine. It’s both upsetting and a blessing that sometimes the universe just hands you exactly what you need. What I needed was a piece of paperbark on a city footpath. From there came a line, and from that line a stanza. I thought about distance between paperbark near a main city road and the paperbark I peeled from one of the many tea trees around my beachside home. I thought about all the trees around that place, and what they meant to me.

So I’m feeling inspired about NaPoWriMo. My writing seems stuck in a rut right now, and I’m unable to see things from the required angle to move forward. NaPoWriMo, while not related to the larger work I’m doing, might just be the injection of something new that I need to shake it up and get it all moving again.

So for the whole of April, I’m committing to read a poem each morning, and write a poem each day. I’ll experiment with form and themes, and hopefully at the end of the month I’ll have at least a couple of things I’m confident enough with that I can send them off to lit journals for publication. Sometimes I might share a poem, or at least the prompt that lead me to it.

Who’s with me?

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A different room

Image source: Flickr / vanessaberry

Image source: Flickr / vanessaberry

My work space at home is a room of its own – it’s a second bedroom turned into a study, where I have a desk, a reading chair, and a couple of book shelves. This room houses the nonfiction shelves and lit mags. It’s nice to be able to get out of bed and be at work without leaving the house.

It’s also really hard. It’s hard to not do the dishes mid-morning, or watch some TV over lunch (which then turns into an afternoon of TV). It’s difficult to concentrate on anything for a particularly long period of time when the rest of my life creeps in, because the place I work is amongst my life. It’s all tangled up in the messiness of living. The washing and the dinner and the laziness of lunchtime. The lure of bed on bad days, the ease of slipping into loneliness and sadness when the only person I see is my secretive neighbour whose blinds snap shut each time I spy his face. Working at home can be isolating, and it gives my mind every opportunity to sink into the troublesome parts of myself.

Last year I benefited hugely from having a space to work away from home, in the lab at uni. I left home in the morning, taking my work with me, and when I came home I had permission to relax. While I was in the lab I saw people – I was able to ask them how their work was going, and offload my own worries or struggles. Together we’d celebrate the little victories – a chapter completed, a discovery communicated. Perhaps these kinds of relationships are unique to well-matched research groups. Perhaps it’s silly to try to recreate it.

I can, however, hope to recreate the good habits and healthy attitude of leaving the house to work.

I’ve just opened a membership with the Athenaeum Library – a subscription library above the Athenaeum Theatre – where I will try to work at least three days a week (as employment allows, which it totally does at the moment). It’s a serious place, full of dark, wooden furniture and paintings of bearded men on the walls; there’s something oddly comforting about its masculinity. It’s quiet here; silence broken intermittently by chatter amongst friends.

I’ll still work at home once a week, at a treat. I’ll allow myself that day to potter around between working, and I’ll accept that.

My mind feels open today – brighter, energised, ready to make something. It’s not any easier to write, but it feels less easy to get discouraged. And that’s something.

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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.

Post-Postsecret
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.

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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.

BONUS EXISTENTIAL REQUEST:

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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