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Michelle Nugent: 'a magical opportunity'

Michelle Nugent stayed at KSP in 2021 as a writer-in-residence.

'It’s a strong word, but I had grown to hate my manuscript. I can now safely say that I’m having an affair with the process of editing and adding to it, and I have KSP to thank. Affectionately known as ‘The Doorstop’, this MS has been perched on my shoulder muttering messages of guilt into the ear of my psyche since the coming-of-age story poured out of me with surprising force back in 2015 during NaNoWriMo.

I’ve spent many hours tinkering, even investing in a self-led 4-day spell at KSP a few years ago, but the whispers of discontent were becoming shrieks. I knew I had to do something about those 53,000 words, or forever ponder why I bothered in the first place. I applied for a KSP Fellowship around October 2020, philosophically deciding that in the unlikely event I was chosen, it was a sign from the manuscript goddesses that I needed to invest more time and effort (which I may be doing until the day I die, mind you). Flabbergasted to discover last December that I had been chosen, I began to give myself permission to think about the doorstop in more forgiving terms. Admittedly, my nerves grew more jangly as the date of my confinement drew closer. I knew I’d need some sort of direction for those two weeks or achieve little more than further frustration.

I contacted Perth author Rashida Murphy (The Historian’s Daughter – UWA Publishing) and she kindly agreed to professionally appraise where this body of work was at. Rashida is one of KSP’s recommended MS assessors and the fact that I loved her debut novel (and we were once members of the same suburban Perth book club), gave me confidence that I could trust her enough to hand over the doorstop for some wise clues on where and how to concentrate my efforts during the Fellowship.

With no formal creative writing education to speak of (I am a print Editor/journo of 27 years with a dry/fact-based approach) she helped me see that a narrative restructure would sharpen the story’s telling, and hopefully its reading (even if only by yet to be conceived in mind or utero grandchildren). The doorstop is now close to 62,000 words and I am so enjoying being able to tell this tale more clearly.

But mostly I’m relieved that my view of this MS is no longer a hopeless, disempowered one. The Fellowship also turbo-charged my desire to create a long-overdue dedicated writing space in my home (including a new laptop, laptop stand, desk and chair). The Fellowship was a magical opportunity to temporarily shelve my professional writing job, helping my creative juices to bubble, and writing daily, or every other day, is now a habit rather than a chore. In fact, I look forward to it as a satisfying, worthwhile pursuit and get a bit antsy if I don’t have enough time to keep this literary entanglement percolating.

I also met a couple of other inspiring Fellows and all-round good sorts, PhD student and history researcher Gabriel Maddock and debut novelist and former journo David Allan-Petale, adding to the authenticity of my two weeks writing in a comfortable hideaway from my normal world. I also participated in four sessions at KSP’s weekly writing groups which further wedged me into that writer’s groove we all crave, helping elevate my confidence and writing practice. The members of these groups were a positive salve, providing encouragement and feedback I have never before been brave enough to seek out.

For all these things, I am truly grateful.'

Michelle's top 10 writing tips:

1. Going for a daily walk in nature/fresh air – it refreshes my mind, especially if I’ve been writing and concentrating. It also helps prevent stiffness due to sitting at a keyboard for long periods.

2. I have a yoga mat permanently in situ so that any time my brain is stuck, or my body feels tight, I can get on the floor and do some basic stretches. May favourite is Child’s Pose and exercises to loosen the lumbar and hips.

3. Read while having breakfast, lunch or any other break. It is the perfect escape from your own writing and can provide inspiration for returning to the keyboard.

4. Use the ‘Dictate’ function in Microsoft Word when you are in a document. This is useful if you think of something that you don’t want to forget, especially if it doesn’t immediately relate to what you are currently writing. You can then copy and paste it elsewhere for future reference.

5. Read your work to a group of writers, strangers or peers. The feedback is valuable, and reading your work out loud helps pick up errors, flow and other issues.

6. Drink copious amounts of tea. It gets you up and away from the keyboard.

7. If you feel like writing every day, go with it. But don’t scold yourself if you don’t get time.

8. Make a commitment to set aside time a/h for writing every week. It doesn’t matter what sort of writing it is (as long as it’s creative and not a work email). A half-hour session is enough because if you do it regularly, it will start to build a habit.

9. Don’t feel pressure to explain your writing to everyone who asks, especially family, unless you are in the mood for their feedback. I liken it to sharing potential baby name ideas with people – there will be unsolicited opinions and advice that you may not be prepared for.

10. Encourage and support other writers whenever you can. It starts great conversations about stories and writing.

~ Michelle Nugent 2021

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