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Colleen Smith: What a great journey it was doing my Flash Fellowship at KSPWC

The ability to remove yourself from other people and distractions and simply write—for as many or as few hours as you fancy on any day—is liberating. I personally went for the ‘many’ most days and achieved more than I anticipated I would when I applied for the fellowship. But each to their own. If it’s more about chilling than thrilling for you, that’s also valid (mostly).


The cabins at KSPWC are little cocoons from which you don’t need to emerge if you don’t want to. Once you stock the full-sized fridge, the cabin has everything you need for a week-long writing hibernation. They are clean and cozy—and mine was cool (great aircon) during the extreme heat when I was there in February 2024. Eating your breakfast at the desk in front of the large window while looking out on gum trees, parrots feeding and some ‘wild but not angry’ bees feels quintessentially Australian—and is inspiring.


If you need a writer’s refuge to let your mind reset and your muse run rampant, this is the spot. I woke most days between 6 and 7 am—no alarms required. I paced myself. I took a leisurely approach to breakfast. I did my social stuff on the internet and then—I wrote. One day I wrote 3,000 words—and then threw 1,000 of them in the bin. That’s writing for you. But there was not one of the five full days I was there that I didn’t get out of bed raring to get to the computer and write. Solitude, serenity and seclusion are a writer’s friends when they’re ready to stop planning (read procrastinating) and start WRITING. Note: Lots of chocolates and snacks (and possibly alcohol) also help, although they can make the keyboard sticky. Yes, even the alcohol (if you spill it). Don’t spill it. 😉


This fellowship was what I needed to reboot a manuscript that I started five years ago and still haven’t finished (although there have been a number of others written and finished in between). I always believed it was a story that deserved to be told, but ... Now I’m confident the dam’s broken and I can even see where all that water’s going. And I am very grateful to KSPWC and all their donors, staff and volunteers for that.


TEN TOP WRITING TIPS

I should start by saying I work exclusively on computer, so some of these tips will not work for those who handwrite their manuscripts or need to constantly print out to review.


1. If you’re writing in Microsoft Word, use the Navigation side bar. Add the crucial points/events to the chapter heading (in one of the default Word heading styles) and you can see the progress of your plot in a single window.


2. If you don’t know what I’m talking about in tip 1, go do a Microsoft Word course. Some community colleges have them for free. You’ll be amazed by what you don’t know and how much it can help with your writing.


3. Every day you open your manuscript to work on it, save it with that day’s date. So, if you have an MS called ‘The Novel’ (TN) save it as YYMMDD-TN. Next time you open it, save it with that day’s date (most of the time that only requires changing the last digit). Your versions of your MS will be listed in date order, you’ll know which one is the last one you worked on (because finding out you’ve been working on an old one is heartbreaking) AND you’ll never lose more than a day’s work if something goes wrong. Bitter experience talking here.


4. Know the difference between creative musing, crucial research, plotting and procrastination. They ARE different things. I have finished seven manuscripts in the last seven years. Six of those have gone out on submission represented by an agent. I’m not saying that to blow my own trumpet (truly, none of them have been picked up, nothing to crow about there). But, if I’d spent weeks digging in the internet for whatever (and I DO do research where needed) and diving down rabbit holes I would never have finished one. Write. Research anything you need to later and rewrite for credibility in the second draft. Don’t get bogged down in the detail on a first draft.


5. Now I’m going to get ‘Jeez, I know that’, but find your tribe. Writer’s groups are essential for workshopping, brain-storming, spit-balling and holding you up when you’re drowning—and we all slip under the surface at some stage. Probably more than once. Most people in the group will have something they’re very good at—writing synopses (ugg, horror), massaging pitches, coming up with titles, grammar and spelling. The whole group is great for accountability. The list goes on. Use them. And give back. It’s magic.


6. Do at least a couple of writing courses. Whatever you can afford. This is where my writing group came from—a novel writing course we all did together—and we’re still strong seven years later with some notable successes. I know courses are expensive and not everyone can afford them, but save up if you can and do it. When I did my first course (blushing here) I didn’t know what POV stood for or that ‘head-hopping’ was (usually) a No-No. I’ve come so far because of those courses.


7. When you start getting confused about the timeline, pause and step back and make a table or spreadsheet setting out the chronological progression. Something you can change easily, because you almost certainly will.


8. Have a list of your characters and their crucial characteristics. I sometimes don’t take my own advice on this, BTW, and end up having to do an annoying ‘search and replace’ to make sure it’s Dennis throughout and not David or Darryl. And sometimes I’ve written more than one ‘David’ and have to go back and work out which ones I need to change back. (Facepalm) And it helps to make sure that every character doesn’t use the same pet expressions. Oh, my god! Jesus! WTF! Or that they’re not all blue-eyed blondes.


9. When you realise you need to go back and add a seed or a bit of foreshadowing, do it on the spot. Not the actual work, but put a marker where you need to do more work. Straight away. Don’t tell yourself you’ll remember that, because you almost certainly won’t. I use ### and then a note about what needs to be done. Then forget about it. The marker’s easy to search and, at the end of the first draft (hallelujah!), that’s exactly what I do. Go through the search list and assess what you now need and what was rubbish or has become redundant because of plot or character changes.


10. WRITE. Ignore all the other stuff and just write.


Colleen Smith, KSP Flash fellow 2024

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