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Top Ten Tips from Melinda Tognini

My writing residency at Katharine’s Place has been a beautiful gift for which I continue to feel grateful.

Images by Melinda Tognini

I first heard of Katharine Susannah Prichard when I was 15 after winning an award for English. My prize? Katharine Susannah Prichard’s Haxby’s Circus. I know it’s nothing more than co-incidence. There’s no way my English teacher could know that almost three decades later I’d be writing at the home of its author. But I love the tenuous connection anyway.

Another connection is perhaps more significant: when the War Widows’ Guild wanted a writer to record its history, it placed an advertisement in the KSP Writers’ Centre newsletter. Without that ad, and without my friend passing it on to me, my book Many Hearts, One Voice would not exist, and I would not have spent a month in the wonderful cabin with the wide desk and city views.

During my residency, I visited numerous groups to give an informal author talk, answer questions about writing Many Hearts, One Voice, and to introduce my current project, the story of an asylum seeker who remains in detention. I ran a writing workshop, which encouraged participants to consider the perspectives of those (fiction and non-fiction) on the margins of history as a way of creating space for fresh and diverse voices. I spoke at a literary dinner, visited a local library, and spent time with three KSP members in a mentoring capacity.

Melinda Tognini, author talk at Mundaring Library, Wednesday 2 March 2016

I always hope that sharing my writing journey will encourage others to persevere with their own; however, I’m sure I received far more being at Katharine’s Place than anything I was able to give during my residency. To have a month ensconced in the cabin next to Katharine Susannah Prichard’s own writing room, to write without being constrained by school hours - this is truly a gift.

While there, I found renewed energy and focus on my current work-in-progress, the story of a man who has spent much of the past three years in detention, his life in limbo, after seeking asylum in Australia. His story is one of hardship and trauma, but also one of great courage and resilience. I spent considerable time transcribing his story from oral history interviews as well as writing part of what can be loosely described as a first draft.

The gift of Katharine’s Place has not been only in the welcoming space to write; it is also the opportunity to recalibrate, to rework my daily rhythm, and re-evaluate the myriad activities I’m usually caught up in. And it is also becoming part of a vibrant community of writers who encourage and support one another.

Thank you to everyone who made me feel so welcome. I thoroughly enjoyed every moment of my residency. I look forward to my ongoing association with the KSP Writers’ Centre.

Find out more about Melinda at her website:

Top Ten Tips

1. Just start. When my son was small, the only time I had to write was during his afternoon nap. I often ‘tricked’ myself into writing by saying, ‘You only have to write for 10 minutes.’ That was usually enough for me to find my rhythm again.

2. Focus on the time you do have, rather than the time you don’t have. If I put off writing until I have ‘enough’ time, I will never put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard). I might not be able to write a whole chapter in the time available, but I can write a paragraph.

3. Dare to say yes. Know when to say no. As Henri Matisse says, ‘Creativity takes courage’. Dare to say yes to your writing, but remember that for everything you say yes to, you are indirectly saying no to something else. Often when I say yes to the requests and demands of others, I end up saying no to my writing.

4. Disconnect. Studies indicate that it takes somewhere between 15 and 25 minutes to refocus after an interruption - so all those emails, text messages and social media notifications add up to a lot of missed writing time. If you think you don’t have enough time to write, disconnecting may be part of the solution.

5. Boredom feeds creativity. I’m often tempted to reach for my phone if I have a few minutes free, and yet boredom is said to be an important precursor to creativity. How often do you allow yourself the space to think – and even be bored?

6. You can edit a badly written page; you can’t edit a blank one. Giving myself permission to write a rubbish first draft became the difference between blank computer screen and a story. Besides, it must be called a ‘rough’ draft for a reason.

7. Nothing is ever wasted. I spent five years writing a novel that was never published, but rather than seeing it as time wasted, I now consider it part of my ‘deliberate practice’, all of which contributes to building my skills as a writer.

8. Read. Read. Read. Stephen King says that ‘If you don't have time to read, you don't have the time (or the tools) to write.’ I agree with him.

9. Find a support network. This might seem a no brainer if you’re already involved in a group at the KSP Writers' Centre, but I’ve found the encouragement of other writers to be essential. One friend has been a key support for more than two decades. There have been numerous times when one of us has wondered if this writing life was worth it – fortunately we never felt like giving up at the same time.

10. Persevere. If you can’t imagine a life without writing and believe it to be core to who you are, then don’t give up. Keep writing. If I can do it so can you.

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