Karen Hollands: Hiding away in the gorgeous KSP cabin helped kick this novel along.
I had known about KSP for years before I applied for a fellowship.
Three people from my writers’ group had been and lots of people I follow on twitter had posted about their stays there. So I was thrilled to receive my own fellowship and trek across the country from my home in Brisbane to stay earlier this year.
I’ve had a few weekend retreats with friends and on my own, but never one for two weeks. My aim while there was to work on the first draft of a novel. First drafts are the hardest for me. I had been writing and re-writing the beginning of this novel for most of last year and I desperately needed to spend some ‘deep time’ on it – some long stretches of uninterrupted thinking so I could hold the story in my head and work out what it was I was trying to say.
The cabin was gorgeous. A desk in front of a large window, which overlooked the garden. The room was beautifully furnished; comfortable and inviting, with everything a writer needs (including complimentary chocolate). It was easy to stay tucked away in my air-conditioned room the first week because the temperature outside ranged from 36-38 degrees during the day. I threw myself into writing using the trusty pomodoro method (30 mins writing, 10 mins moving about, on repeat) to keep myself focused and working. I wrote scene after scene, chapter after chapter.
The second week was cooler and the writing got harder. By mid-week, my old friend, self-doubt, paid a visit. I hit a wall. It was too hard. I was no good. I put my pen down and re-listened to Richard Fidler’s interview with Liz Gilbert. Gilbert says, “This book is not trying to torment you, it’s not trying to ruin your life, it’s trying to reach you. Stay with it.” Then I picked up Anne Lamott’s, Bird by Bird (such a fantastic book, I knew I was going to need it) and re-read the chapter, “Shitty First Drafts”. Lamott says, “The first draft is the child’s draft, where you let it all pour out and then let it romp all over the place, knowing that no one is going to see it and that you can shape it later.” I pressed on. I stayed with it. I let the words pour out in their messy, unbridled fashion.
I was very lucky to have shared my time at KSP with fellow writers, Renee Treml and Rhian Healy. Renee and I established a routine of walking at 6:30 every morning (before it got too hot!) and Rhian joined us sometimes, too. The three of us met at the main kitchen in the evenings to eat together, talk about our day and writing in general, and soak up the stunning sunsets. This is a big advantage of going on a retreat; the opportunity to meet and talk (debrief!) with other writers cannot be overstated.
The grounds at KSP are alive with fauna: Quendas (which I’d never heard of before), lizards, probably snakes (though I didn’t see one), and lots and lots of fabulous birds. As I sat writing at my window, I was frequently and happily distracted by magpies chortling on the ground, black cockatoos screeching overhead, Australian ringnecks chattering in the trees, honeyeaters, and more. I regretted not having a pair of binoculars with me (though if I had, I probably wouldn’t have written as much).
Hiding away in the gorgeous KSP cabin helped kick this novel along. It’s not finished yet, but without my stay there, I wouldn’t have got anywhere near as much writing done. So thank you to the lovely staff, volunteers and fellow ‘fellows’ for making this retreat so productive, enjoyable and memorable.
Top Ten Tips
I feel wary about giving a list of tips because everyone is different and what works for me may not appeal to you. But here goes…
1. Perhaps the main thing is not to be hard on yourself. I think it was Charlotte Wood who suggested critiquing your writing as if you are giving feedback to someone else, someone you care deeply about.
2. If you can write every day, great. If you can’t because, life, that’s ok, too. Be kind to yourself.
3. If you don’t have a lot of time to write, just write one sentence – it will be more than you had before. (In my experience, one sentence has always led to another, and another. But if you only manage one some days, that’s fine, too.)
4. Life will always get in the way. You cannot put life on pause. (See above point for a solution).
5. I find reading my work aloud (to myself) extremely helpful for seeing problems with word choice and rhythm, in particular.
6. I feel strongly that writers should read books. A lot of them.
7. I find it helpful to read or listen to writer interviews. Many writers with multiple publications say they find every new book hard to write. This is strangely comforting.
8. Make sure your verbs are working hard.
9. Step away from the internet when you are writing.
10. If you are easily distracted (or procrastinating), try using a timer to help you get some writing done.
Karen Hollands, KSP Fellow - March/February 2023