Melanie Saward: Rest is crucial to creativity
I arrived at KSP late on a Monday night.
I was tired from a month of touring around the country with my debut novel Burn, but I was excited to get stuck into the structural edit of my second novel Love Unleashed.
Though the centre was closed and my fellow writers were hunkered down for the night, arrival in my cabin was welcoming. A parcel of goodies, a beautiful big writing desk, and a comfy bed set me up for a good sleep and the start of a productive week.
In the morning, I set up my space, unpacked and ate breakfast outside my cabin while I got to know the local birds. The highway hummed in the distance as I planned out my day. As soon as I went inside, I was ready to get started.
When I applied for the CALD fellowship in 2022, I thought that I’d spend the week rewriting a manuscript I’d produced as part of my master’s research. I knew I’d be at the tail end of book tour and I aimed to come back from KSP with a new book to offer to my publisher. But in the time between applying for and being awarded the fellowship, I had gained a contract with another publisher and their schedule meant my week was spent on a structural edit of a different kind. There is something different about doing a massive rewrite on book that’s already contracted and one that you just wanted to polish, and so my time at KSP was a little more deadline heavy than I’d planned, but still productive and enjoyable.
While I was in residence, one of the most important things I learned was to be gentle with myself. I had a deadline, yes, but I was also drained from the business of promoting a book. So that meant I went to bed when I was tired, slept until I woke (no alarms!), left the desk when I was procrastinating and didn’t get mad at myself when sitting outside in the sun felt more productive than writing. Rest is crucial to creativity.
Writing this report now that my residency is behind me is bittersweet. My edits were due weeks ago and yet I am still working. The state of the world has exhausted me and sapped me of so much of the creative energy I gained from being at KSP. I’d give anything to be back there in that cabin in the hills, being visited by local birds while the highway and the world hums away in the background.
Ten tips for KSP residency
1) Be ready to adapt your plans: publishing runs on its own special schedule and sometimes the best laid plans will be thwarted
2) Take two weeks if you can, especially if you’re from the East Coast. Travel time to and from WA is significant and a two week stay gives you more time to get into the swing of things.
3) Give yourself a treat every day. For me, that was an excursion to visit a bookshop and have lunch somewhere different. I hired a car so that I could do this and it stopped the four walls of the cabin from closing in around me the more stressed I got about deadlines!
4) Use the whiteboard in the cabin. I found writing out the beats of my story helped with plotting and visualisation so much
5) Start a list (whether it’s on the KSP whiteboard, your computer, or a notebook) called ‘Thoughts’ and record any random thoughts you have about your writing while you’re working. I found this stopped me from getting too bogged down in disparate thoughts but allowed me to record any gems that came up while I was in a creative headspace.
6) Carry a notebook with you when you go off-site. Sometimes my creative juices kick into gear when I’m away from the desk and being able to record them meant they weren’t lost!
7) Get your cabinmates’ email addresses so you can organise a drinks and nibbles night. We had many and they were such fun. A wine and some cheese on the back deck at sunset was the perfect way to end a writing day (or start a writing night)
8) Pack mosquito repellent (especially if you’re going to hang out on the back deck at sunset!)
9) Do what feels good: the pressure to create in a place like this, especially if your residency is late in the year, is high and that’s not always conducive to productivity.
10) Use Ashley Kalgian Blunt’s bird spotting sheet in your cabin and make friends with the winged locals.
Melanie Saward, KSP CALD Scholarship 2023