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Emma Pignatiello: 'I could have lived there forever.'

Emma Pignatiello stayed at KSP Writers' Centre as a 1st edition fellow in March 2022.

Imposter syndrome is always there, but at KSP I was able to smother it with my cabin’s complimentary pencil pillow. Waking up every morning knowing that the entire day would be dedicated to writing, learning about writing and talking about writing helped quieten the doubts that buzz around in the outside world.

My cabin was its own self-contained world, I could have lived there forever. Everything a writer needed was provided for including chocolate and poetry fridge magnets. Walking through the grounds and the nearby John Forrest National Park was like being attached to a constant drip of inspiration. The novel I am working on as part of the Four Centres Emerging Writers Program is a crime thriller set in Perth so the backdrop of the wild gardens, wooden cabins and rich history of Katharine’s house was the perfect setting for creepy ideas.

The mentor sessions with Laurie Steed were nothing like I have ever experienced. Laurie was incredibly knowledgeable and generous with his time and insights into the writing craft and industry. Workshopping my novel with him and the other First Edition Retreat mentees was the objective insight I needed on what was and wasn’t working with the opening of my novel. Both of these were important to hear, I think as writers we can get so caught up on what’s not going well that hearing others say what is working is just as valuable feedback. Reading the others’ work was inspiring not only because of their talent but also as a reminder that writing does not have to be a solitary experience and that there are other people in the world just as insane as you are for voluntarily choosing this maddening journey.

At the end of each session I would go back to my cabin and scribble sticky-notes upon sticky-notes full of things I needed to include or rework – I stuck them up on my whiteboard – never having placed my work out like this before – it was like putting the right glasses on for the first time. I sectioned the board into thirds – one for each of my point of view characters and added scribbles and sticky-notes to each. Trying to do this at home with a three-year-old would have resulted with someone in tears and sticky-notes all over the floor. I was also able to sleep, which is an underestimated, long-forgotten (in my case) writing tool.

My stay at KSP gave me the will to keep going, the knowledge that I can do it, the insight of how to do it and the reminder that it’s about the journey, not the destination.

Top 10 tips

1.Treat writing like wiping your bum. By this I mean make it a non-negotiable part of your routine.

2. Trick yourself into writing a first draft by writing a detailed ‘plan’. Don’t call it a first draft in your mind (even though this is what it is). You will be surprised at how much freedom you feel to make mistakes and write bad words because it’s a ‘plan’, not a draft.

3. Listen to writing podcasts. Learn from other writers who were in a position you once were. The ones I love and have found helpful are: So You Want to Be A Writer?, Writers Off the Page (WA based), Writes4Women, Fremantle Press Podcast and Amie Kaufman – On Writing.

4. When someone gives you feedback – listen. Go for a walk, mull it over. Take time, but listen – especially if they are an industry professional or an expert in their field.

5. Learn the craft. Read craft books on writing, dissect what it is your favourite authors do that keep you up at 2am swearing it’s ‘just one more page!’. Writing is like any skill. You can’t expect a surgeon to rock up straight out of high school and know what to do – you have to learn the skills and you have to make mistakes. Most professions require training and education before you can expect to be hired or taken seriously – treat writing like this.

6. Exercise. This is where all good ideas are formed and characters are saved from dead end plot problems. Do something repetitive like walking or jogging.

7. Leave your work for as long as you can after each draft before working on it again. I know it’s hard, I am very bad at doing this. But you will be so much more objective and able to see what is not working the longer you leave it.

8. Put yourself out there – enter competitions, apply for fellowships, start calling yourself a writer on social media. You miss every opportunity that you don’t take.

9. Don’t compare yourself to others. They’re on their own journey, and you also don’t know how many rejections they’ve come up against before they get the final yes. Over-night sensations are rarely as the name suggests. Everyone is on their own journey.

10. Don’t. Give. Up. Talent is not as important as the strength to keep on going. Allow yourself to feel disappointment and all the other emotions that come with rejections and imposter syndrome and all those wonderful realities of the writing beast. Feel it all, and then get up the next day and keep going.

~ Emma Pignatiello 2022


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