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Michelle Johnston: Writing is such difficult journey, and I will be forever grateful for this opportunity.

The drive out to Greenmount was one long sigh.

The roads were oddly quiet, as though everybody knew to get out of my way. ‘Give her space,’ I imagined them saying, pulling to the side of the road.

Three weeks, writer in residence, Katharine Susannah Prichard. A novel to finish, an overloaded, wired brain to sort out. I had a boot full of teabags, having cleared the shelves of my local IGA like a shopper honed in a pandemic. I had pens and notebooks – many of these, and then a few more. I drove down Great Eastern Highway and an aeroplane took the opportunity to glide overhead so close I sensed the wash. It’s a sign, I thought. Of what, I had no idea. I was just so ecstatic to have dedicated writing time, everything felt preternaturally awesome.

Then, hauling my suitcases into my cabin I discovered a whiteboard. A whiteboard! I thought I might expire right there.

But, reader, I did not. I wrote and I wrote and I wrote. I wrote before the sun turned its apocalyptic eye on the day (and a note about the heat: This part of the world has banned the use of the Fremantle Doctor. No sweet afternoon breeze comes to rustle away the swelter. I worried about running the workshop on the Saturday, when temperatures were hitting a cataclysmic forty-three degrees, that people’s eyeballs might boil, that the participants might liquefy into their pages. The insides of my ears felt hot. But, with the capitalist blessing of air-conditioners, and the beautiful conference room in the Writers Centre, we survived. No, we thrived), and I wrote until the sun set in its burnished orange fury behind the little Lego toytown of a CBD, giving it a brief Pixar silhouette. And then, the evening wine, after which I wrote some more, but it didn’t make any sense, so I had to throw all those words out the next morning.

I finished a draft of my next manuscript, and for that I am so deeply grateful. I facilitated two workshops during which we celebrated the utter and infinite joy of creating written works of art, no matter the genre, no matter the intent, no matter the chains of the publishing industry. Writing is such difficult journey, even with this privilege of time and space, and I will be forever grateful for this opportunity.

I do have a ‘top ten tips’, but do remember, dear reader, my habits are mostly absurd and not to be recommended to anyone.

1.      However many teabags you buy for your stay, you will always need more.

2.      Make friends with your cabin neighbours. You are all preposterous introverts and there is no risk of anybody saying a god-given word to anybody else during the day, but by the evening you will all be going stir-crazy, and because you are all bordering on Hemingway-alcoholic you will have someone to share a glass of wine with, and commiserate about the difficulty of wrangling your magnificent thoughts into the clunky words which somehow appeared on the page instead, and share the glories of occasionally succeeding in writing something decent, and rail against all the injustices of the world.

3.      Be kind to yourself. Life is brutal and short and full of tragedy. We get such a fleeting existence on this planet, that it is OK if what you produce is not earth-shattering, if they are not the sentences of Zadie Smith or the immersion of Margaret Atwood or the suspense of Jane Harper. You are you, and you are unique, and your words are not ever to be compared with anybody else’s. Repeat the words love, love, love to yourself, if that helps. I know I do. OK, this is a tip for life, not for KSP. I have gone off piste.

4.      Look at the leaves. They are beautiful.

5.      Bring books to read. Modern, that you want to mimic, and old, because you have time.

6.      Wine. Bring some.

7.      Take a photo of the bee sign. It will make you happy, and will be good to use in a talk someday about how you might like to live your life.

8.      Just write. It’s freaking glorious.

9.      You know the rest of it. Go for walks, take time, do push-ups.

10. Know your word count for an article. I’ve gone way over mine.

Michelle Johnston, KSP Emerging Writer in Residence 2024


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