Maura Pierlot: Diary of a Writing Fellowship
Day 1: I’m here! The moment I spot KSP’s wrap-around balcony, I relax from head to toe. With groceries in hand, I make my way to Phillips Cottage, farewelling my husband and son who are heading north and will return on my final day … assuming the whale sharks are friendly. I stayed in Aldridge cabin five years ago and the peaceful surrounds are just as I remember, the garden alive with colour. Phillips is bright and cosy with everything I need, and my mind brims with anticipation for the days to come. The welcome instructions remind me that I need to produce a report and I decide to do so in diary form, taking a few moments each day to reflect.
Days 2-3: Process is Outcome I’m not typically an early riser but find solace in the just after dawn, my fingers tapping the keyboard at 6.00am, when the world is still and my thoughts are raw. I’ve arrived at KSP with half of my memoir manuscript, the other half still locked in my unconscious mind. I spend hours walking, thinking, dreaming, conceptualising about the nature of self and its intricate connections to identity and belonging – the complex intersection at the heart of my work. Although I don’t have much on paper to show for my efforts, I feel as though I have accomplished a lot.
Day 4: Thread Count
I spend most of the day teasing out threads from my manuscript, not knowing whether I’m working through the knots or have yet to stumble across the gnarliest ones. I know the connections are there and the big picture is getting clearer, but I’m still searching for the throughline. I enjoy a lovely evening with fellow KSP resident, Natalie D-Napoleon. Three hours and a bottle of red, a gift from KSP’s lovely Sofija, evaporate far too quickly. It’s uncanny how much Natalie and I have in common – I feel like I’m talking to an old friend.
Day 5: Is North Up? My map is still missing a destination but I’m feeling energised and dive into my manuscript anyway. It’s slow going. My memoir work is hybrid in nature – a blend of poetry, prose, drawings, memorabilia and more. This allows me to switch gears when I get stuck, so I juggle writing with sketching. Despite being a hopeless navigator – ask anyone who’s been on a road trip with me – I always end up where I’m meant to be, usually with a lot of stories to tell. Remembering this brings me comfort. The words will come out when the time is right.
Day 6: Found Words and Much More
The highlight of the day is a ‘Found Words’ workshop with Natalie, which offers great insight into her creative process and a wonderful opportunity to meet local writers. Natalie guides us through a series of creative exercises as we craft poetry from found words in the KSP homestead, from newspapers, from a lucky dip and more. Such a fun way to shift entrenched ways of thinking and get creative juices flowing, When I get back to my cabin, there’s a knock at the door. It’s my words saying, We’re ready. I write for two hours, go for a walk, sketch outside for an hour and a half, then write some more.
Day 7: A Glimpse of Brilliance In the midst of a psychic tussle, a flicker of brilliance emerges. It’s as though the stars align, and my words quickly find their rhythm. I see the path ahead and follow it. I wish I could bottle this spark, dab the essence on my wrists whenever the cursor blinks on my screen with indecision. But I know the harder I try to hold on, the quicker it will slip away. I write into the night until sleep calls.
Day 8: My Muse Takes Unauthorised Leave The spark has left the building. It’s hard to know what to do when your muse has taken an unauthorised leave of absence. The words elude me, and frustration takes hold. But I refuse to surrender. I try Wall Pilates to reacquaint the nerves in my legs with my brain. I go for a walk. I make a huge salad and enjoy it al fresco. The birds are chatty and nature embraces me, coaxing the muse back to my side. The words trickle back, one by one. Days 9-11: Write Away
After a surprisingly restful sleep, I write and write and write. I love some of the writing, other bits, less so. But I remind myself that this is all about getting thoughts and emotions on the page, about the shape and weight of the work. The business end of a writer’s life (blog posts, socials, marketing, interviews for recently released work etc) rears its ugly head. I plow through, unaware that these supposed distractions feed directly into my memoir work until more ‘aha’ moments. Qantas kindly tells me they’ve cancelled my flight (again!), cutting short by fellowship by a day and a bit. I catch up with Natalie for a few laughs, some final reflections and a farewell.
Day 12: As Arnie said, I’ll Be Back There’s another knock on the door, but this time it’s not my words calling. It’s my husband and son. They tote my belongings to the car, regaling me with stories of magical sea creatures, eager to hear about my stay. I’m slightly envious of their travels but not really. I may not have swum with dolphins or clocked up kilometres, but I’ve travelled far through rough terrain, coming face to face with a creative force that I’m learning how to harness. I’m leaving KSP with a more focused, streamlined and substantial manuscript, a renewed sense of purpose and deep gratitude for the opportunity. I feel very much at home in this magical place and hope to return one day.
Maura’s ‘Top 10’ Writing Tips
1. Read with abandon – Dive into genres and absorb different writing styles, perspectives, and storytelling techniques.
2. Experiment often – Try your hand at something new (style, genre, audience) to shatter preconceptions, broaden your perspective and unlock creativity.
3. Make space in your life for the arts – whether you write regularly or when the mood strikes, find a way to incorporate creative expression in your life – broadly, freely and consistently – in a way that makes sense for you. 4. Find intrinsic value in writing (and creativity generally) – Don’t measure success in terms of output or publication. 5. Nurture narrative identity, not just artistic identity – Know your value outside of writing and let your narrative and artistic identities support and strengthen each other.
6. Be proactive – Explore new opportunities, step out of your comfort zone and keep a lot of irons in the fire. The synergy that results can be powerful and revelatory.
7. Run your own race – Don’t compare yourself to others or get caught up with what they are doing. Your creative path is as unique as your fingerprint.
8. Meander – The direct route may be quicker but going ‘off road’ can lead to unexpected discoveries, a richer outlook and more inspired writing.
9. Take breaks – Step away from your writing regularly to recharge then return with fresh eyes and renewed energy. 10. Be curious – Question everything and imagine alternate possibilities – for yourself, for your writing, for life. No path is fixed.
Maura Pierlot, KSP Fellow - September 2023