Hello again. The title of this post is a quote by American writer Daniel Hillel, and it resonated with me the other day when I read it in Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird: some instructions on writing and life. Bird by Bird is one of my favourite writing books, and I often go back to it, especially in times of self-doubt caused by long periods of waiting for publishers to get back to me. The chapters on ‘Radio Station KFKD’ – Lamott’s analogy for the negative voices that fill a writer’s head – are laugh-out-loud funny, even after you’ve read them as many times as I have. Anne Lamott taped Hillel’s quote above her desk to remind herself to keep ‘dancing’ during the rough patches, which is a good thing to remember. Like Anne Lamott, the way I ‘dance’ is by writing … and also by singing, especially with other people. I would have lost the plot a long time ago if it hadn’t been for my singing groups.
Over the last few months, though, I’ve mainly been busy with paid work and PhD matters, but things are beginning to calm down now. Not that I’ve been idle on the creative writing front – a few weeks ago, I put in an application for Hedgebrook, a women’s writing retreat on Whidbey Island, near Seattle. Hedgebrook (www.hedgebrook.org) is a unique residential program that supports the creative process of women writers, and ever since a friend went there in 2010, I have fantasised about the Amish-inspired cottages, the food baskets, the quietness of the woods, and the conversations over shared meals at the end of each day. I’d love to be offered a Hedgebrook residency for 2014, where I could have some focussed writing time to develop my next manuscript, a fiction project. Residential retreats – especially ones where you don’t have to cook – are so important for writers like me who don’t have long stretches of time to write, to think, or to dream.
I also had a ‘20 Pages / 20 Minutes’ session with Rob Spillman from Tin House Books (US) at the Brisbane Writers’ Festival. I’ve found these ‘speed-dating-style’ editorial sessions very useful in the past, and this one was no exception. Rob Spillman gave me some excellent advice on how to improve the opening of my memoir, and he also recommended I contact an agent in New York because he thought my writing would appeal to an American audience. Oh, yes please! We talked about Hedgebrook and other American-based writing programs – like the Ucross Foundation in Wyoming and the Tin House Workshops in Oregon – and Rob said my writing was good enough to get me into any of those places. I walked away from the editorial session filled with renewed hope for the future. Bring it on!
Another piece of exciting news is that the first book from my HarperCollins Varuna group has been published. Heather Taylor Johnson’s Pursuing Love and Death looks fabulous and it will be the first ‘pleasure’ read I allow myself after finishing my PhD in early February. Yes, the end is in sight, folks – I recently had a breakthrough moment where I suddenly understood how to structure an academic thesis and the exegesis isn’t half as scary as it was. Thank goodness for that. Until next time …