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Mark Keenan: KSP is a Place That Offers me Something Special

Scrawling in notebooks (and later deciphering the hieroglyphics a past you created).

Click-clacking at keyboards (while wishing you had listened to Sister Maura and learned to touch-type).

Searching for alternative words (then discarding probing for surrogate vocabulary).

Researching the décor of the Weld Club in 1945 (and reading about the flooded Swan River instead).

These are the sorts of things writers do. Usually alone. And, even if not physically separated, we are still cognitively apart, steering our vessel along the waterway of our own imagination. Mostly, I am content with this. Sometimes the frayed ropes of my makeshift raft strain as I navigate the rapids of my mind, and I wonder if I might have considered a safer vocation. But it is a satisfying feeling when I make it past the white water, pull in my oars, and get to drift along in the downstream waters.

I have stayed at KSP Writers Centre before. It is a place which offers me something special. I can be, for a brief time, just a writer and nothing else. I can re-lash my raft with new twine and add additional timber for buoyancy and stability. And this time, thanks to a First Edition Retreat from KSP and the Four Centres Emerging Writers Program, three writers, including me, were gifted an opportunity to gain experience from one of the best whitewater rafters.

Over three days, Laurie Steed helped us to understand the treacherous nature of the watercourses we might pass through and how to navigate them safely. I learned ways to think about the publishing industry and how to keep my project afloat through the rough waters of manuscript submission. We talked through the importance of knowing ‘what’ it is you have written and the importance of understanding your ‘why’. And being able to clearly articulate these. We imagined ways to bring our storytelling into different environments whilst maintaining our authenticity. And we delved into ‘what’s next’ and project management, and the fundamental need for active self-compassion throughout.

The retreat was inspiring. And grounding. And it clarified for me three key principles of being a writer (and a rafter):

  • Staying afloat: a shoddily made raft may get you on the water fast, but it may get you in the water even faster. Take the time to learn skills and build craft. And always look for ways to improve yourself.

  • Set the right course: knowing where you want to go seems obvious, but sometimes you also need to pull over to the riverbank to re-check your map and your intentions.

  • Share your experience: staying afloat and recalibrating your directions can be tiring and wear you down. Talk to other rafters often. Support them and they will support you.

Mark Keenan, KSP First Edition Retreat Fellow - March 2023


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