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Anne Harris: I Tuned Out and Found my Way Into a Book That Was Defying Entry

I stare at the screen. Where did I get to fifteen weeks earlier when I started the Curtis Brown Creative course?

I thought I’d write screeds while that course was on but, instead, I finessed chapters, received feedback from eleven other participants and had zoom sessions with the tutor. The feedback was so good that I acted on advice before I lost the thread.

I’ve still got one chapter to address. It’s well into the book, but I hadn’t (still haven’t) written the scenes in-between. I sent it to the tutor for my second tutorial and noted the imagined backstory. She praised my writing, ‘no issues there’, and then zeroed in on plot and how to develop my protagonist. She asked ‘what if…?’ questions and my excitement lifted with each one. Yes, I kept saying. She was as enthusiastic as me and we sparked off each other. What a gift.

So, here at KSP, day one, I stare at the screen and find that chapter or, should I say, the final version of that chapter. I note that my folders need to be sorted and almost manage to further procrastinate. Instead, I locate the correct document, make a few basic changes, a word here, a sentence there, and then drag out my notes from the session with the tutor. Across the top, I’d scrawled, What if the counsellor wasn’t there? I start with that and four hours later, I push back the chair, and almost stumble as my body tries to straighten.

John Forrest National Park awaits. Google maps shows me one way, but I spy a thin track at the end of the road. I throw my arms in the air when I reach the Heritage Trail and allow a growing sense of freedom mixed with expectations to run through my body.

The following morning, I procrastinate. I have two of the same chapters but there’s a difference in the word count. Note to self—do NOT keep doing this! I’m flat. I’m 15,000 words in and I don’t know what the story is really about. I sort out my documents and still feel flat; so flat, I lie on the bed and can’t move.

The whiteboard is my line of sight. It’s blank but there are coloured markers almost leaping out of their confines. I’m in the grip of a powerful force that’s beyond my control and I’m in front of the board, a black marker in my hand. Down the left-hand side, two sets of numbers magically appear. Fatigue evaporates. I’m in the zone. Add events in what might be the right spot. Characters and actions are listed. Colours are used to signify time of occurrence and resolution(s). Arrows run across and down. I add and delete. Two hours in, I sit in the office chair and reflect on it; jump up and fine-tune it, and keep tweaking for the next hour. The process takes a few hours. And it’s so easy on the white board. My reward awaits and I scurry down to John Forrest National Park before the sun sets behind the city skyline.

And the days pass. Write. Reward. Meet with other residents a couple of times. Attend an excellent workshop. Write. Reward.

This time out has been perfect. Despite noisy trucks up and down Greenmount hill and aeroplanes overhead that I could almost touch, I tuned out and found my way into a book that was defying entry.

Thank you, everyone involved at KSP, for this magical place—this room where the spirits of dozens of writers cheer me on, the workshops and groups that keep the main house buzzing with energy, and the gardens when quiet time is needed. Top ten tips:

  1. If you have writer’s block, pick up a pencil (or pen) and write whatever is in your head, even if you write, ‘I have nothing to say’. Keep the hand moving. Words will come.

  2. Let go of goals, especially those linked to number of words. You might write 3000 words one day and 300 the next.

  3. Walk to John Forrest National Park and return as the sun sets. If you have a camera, watch the large granite rocks change colours.

  4. Read the work of others. Dip into old favourites and random pages of books not yet read. You’ll find inspiration.

  5. Socialise with other writers in residence and respect those who prefer to work all day and half the night.

  6. Use the whiteboard and an A3 Sketchbook even if that’s not your usual way of plotting and planning.

  7. When you’re blocked or you complete a section, stretch, walk up to the kitchen, wander around the garden.

  8. If there’s a workshop on, attend it even if it’s not your genre. You’ll gain pearls of wisdom.

  9. Write, read, walk, stretch, attend workshops, enjoy conversations, have a cup of tea; write, read, stretch ….

  10. Enjoy time out from your usual routine. Celebrate being at KSP.

Anne Harris, KSP Fellow - December 2022


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