I recently gave a lecture to writing students at the University of Sydney for a subject called “Writers at Work”, and one of the students asked me what my “rules” for writing were, based on the Guardian’s Ten Rules for Writing Fiction, a compilation of writers’ personal tips . I love reading these kinds of lists, and find them eminently useful for thinking about my own writing. Here are my rules, to compare and contrast, to take on or not, and to consider.
1. Write often, every day if you can, or at least every other day, even if it is only for ten minutes. In this time, put all else aside.
2. Spend time doing nothing else but thinking.
3. Write things that no one will ever read, as here you will find the freedom to discover what you really want to say.
4. Be curious – the essential quality for a writer above all others.
5. Make a habit of noticing and remembering the details of everything around you. This ensures you will never be bored but also trains you into the heightened awareness you will need.
6. Learn the names of birds, trees and fabrics.
7. Make lists of ideas for stories – I have some ideas I’ve been carrying around for years and I know some I never will write, although I can’t know that for sure. These ideas are like the furniture in a familiar room.
8. It’s okay to write badly as bad writing can always be transformed, although the transforming part is something that can take considerable time and effort.
9. Write letters. Not only is it magic to receive letters, it is an important craft for writers. Letters are all voice, that elusive quality that it can be so hard to develop.
10. (After Walter Benjamin – whose Writers Technique in Thirteen Theses is my favourite ever list of rules for writers) Have in plentiful supply of the pens, notebooks and teacups you will need, and choose the ones of these that give you the most pleasure. I like a vintage exercise book and a black biro. With these as my companions, I am never lost.
On November 19th I’ll be at the NSW Writers Centre talking about one of my favourite topics – Weird Sydney – with some of my favourite writers: Peter Doyle, Chris Mikul, and Michael Wayne. It’s the final event in the “Talking Writing” series for 2015 and is from 6:30-8pm at Garry Owen House, Callan Park, Rozelle. Details and bookings through the NSW Writers Centre.
A few weeks later I will be appearing at the Wollongong Writers Festival on the panel Creative Dialogues: From Blogs to Geo-Politics: the non-fiction of place, talking about some of my psychogeographic experiments on my blog Mirror Sydney.
I have an artwork in Groundwork, an exhibition and series of public programs organised by the New Landscapes Institute. The exhibition brings together the forgotten and unknown history of the city with new experimental art and architecture: my work in the exhibition is a map of Sydney Mystery Structures.
The opening is on Thursday October 1st, 6-8pm at Gaffa Gallery. I’m also leading a couple of tours: there are still a few tickets available for a walk alongside the Annandale Aqueducts on October 11th.
I’m a restrained op shopper compared to the Vanessa Berry of the past. To ensure I am able to move around my home and don’t get trapped under piles of teatowels, vintage ceramics, crockery and weird books I have strict rules for op shop viewing and purchasing. Rather than completely deprive myself of my most favourite hobby (leading to dangerous binges) however, I make a once-weekly op shop stop on the way to work.
Recently, on one of these stops, I found the world’s ugliest teapot.
I spend my days advising students to be careful when making bold, general claims. However I believe this teapot is in fact the world’s ugliest, with its perplexing aesthetic combination of onions and haemorrhoids. Upon Googling “world’s ugliest teapot” a number of other candidates arose, but while the toilet teapot, the Adolf Hitler teapot and the obese rhinocerous teapot are all hideous, I believe there is something in the form of this teapot that works subconsciously upon the human mind to produce revulsion.
I bought the teapot, but not straight away. First I was so horrified I left it on the shelf. I then spent all morning thinking about it. What was wrong with me: I’d left the world’s ugliest teapot on the shelf! I consulted with Simon, who assured me it would be a “conversation piece”, and then skulked out at lunchtime, returned to the shop, and bought it.
“Isn’t this cute?” the woman at the counter said.
“I don’t know – is it?” I asked, bemused, as I handed over my $8.
As an interesting co-discovery I now have a new travel goal, to visit the Meitan Tea Museum in China which is housed in the world’s largest teapot, 73.8 metres tall and with a capacity of 28,360.23 cubic metres. We can only be thankful it is of a conventional shape and not modelled on my newest op shop acquisition.
It has been a while since I’ve made a new zine, but in the weeks before Other Worlds I took up the glue stick and put together the zine that Chiara (of Rhetorical zine) and I have been putting together since the start of the year. It’s about our favourite band, Throwing Muses. The Muses and zines brought us together, so we decided we’d bring everything together and make a fanzine.
We made much of the zine over one weekend and some of the stories in it relate to our various Muses themed adventures: beaches, wigs, lolly shops, summer rain and a party full of people with elaborate headwear. The majority of the zine is stories about the band, from how we encountered them to stories about particular songs and seeing the band live in exotic places like Glasgow and Portland.
We also made a map of Muses song themes, for which we paid studious attention to every album, took notes, made charts, and drank red ice tea.
Other Worlds zine fair is back for a second year with an expanded program of talks, workshops and of course the zine fair, which is on Saturday 23rd May, 11am – 4pm. I’ll be there with some new zines and maps as well as some favourites from the past.
On Tuesday 26th May I’ll be in conversation with Jessica Kirkness at the Randwick Literary Institute for the monthly meeting of the Memoir Club for Readers and Writers. I’ll be speaking about my memoir Ninety9, tips for writing lives, and the possibilities of memoir. The details are:
Tuesday 26 May 2015 6.00—9.00pm
Randwick Literary Institute
60 Clovelly Road, Randwick 2031
RSVP by 24 May: firstname.lastname@example.org
More information on the Institute can be found here.