The Ladder Room
Today is my last in the Ladder Room at Varuna. Thirteen days of watching the rain and cloud rolling in, the leaves begin to redden on the trees, the rosellas wheel and dive. I don’t know how many hours I’ve sat here. There’s no brain capacity left to work it out. I do know I’ve made an effort to leave each day – walked the edge of the gaping chasm, sloshed through puddles, wept and even danced a little at the Blue Mountains Music festival, tried a yoga class, the coffee, the pub.
I sometimes catch myself justifying why I need time to write. We all do it, maybe. But this past fortnight I’ve been reminded of why that time is so important, time when you’re not necessarily writing and watching the word count tick over, but also time for thinking, collecting, following a thought, reading, sorting, cutting, starting again.
There’s a lot of output at a place like this. In total, I’ve composed over 50 000 words on my little keyboard this past fortnight. That didn’t all go into the manuscript, of course (and what did may very well not stay). Some of it was about journalling the process, some of it character interviews, which I’ve never really done before but found so productive, an intimate back and forth with my characters in first person POV that were revealing and astonishing and helped so much in shaping the story.
At any rate – lots of words come out, and I can’t keep that up unless I have words going in.
So I read, and googled, and took recommendations from the fabulous folk here. I read Michael Mohammed Ahmed’s ABR essay ‘Bad Writer’, and Annabel Smith’s musings on backstory. While I walked, I listened to Shelly Birse talk about screenwriting on the Australian Screenwriters Podcast and Tony Birch on The Garret podcast. I was struck by the synchronicity of reading Mark Tredinnick’s essay ‘A Storm and a Teacup‘ and revisiting Rufi Thorpe’s ‘Mother, Writer, Monster, Maid‘, each on exactly the day I needed them.
I dived in and out of some of the books and movies I had packed to bring along (The Refugees by Viet Than Nguyen, The World Beneath by Cate Kennedy, Snowden, The Perfect Storm – an eclectic mix, I know), but totally failed to read as much as I had planned.
I took notes in a fury of multi-tasking, simultaneously in long hand and typing as I read for the first time, The Creative Screenwriter by Zara Waldeback & Craig Batty. And as I read, again and again, what is fast becoming my favourite book on process – Wood’s The Writers Room.
I drew, made timelines and mindmaps and spreadsheets. I filled an entire notebook with scribbles I may not understand. I tested and angsted and cut swathes of words out. I learned over each night of fireside conversation with the other incredible writers here – about story, and writing, and some lessons for life.
The job of the writer is to serve her work.
I served a past work too. This week I met, for the first time, the great grandson of Kate Gibson, the real person on whom I based Kate in Skylarking.
He took me to visit Kate’s grave at South Head Cemetery, and shared stories of his family, and Kate’s. It’s another story, an amazing one, and I’ll share it when I’ve got my head around it. It felt a fitting thing to do, to be finding a new resolution for one book, while falling deeply, chaotically, obsessively into the next.
Brigid Delaney wrote about the gift of residencies to Australian artists in The Guardian this week, so I won’t repeat her sentiments here.
I will say, it is a gift to have time at Varuna. And to have a bloke, and family – a village really – back at home who keep everything clicking over even though life is mad, and busy and hard.
So, feeling grateful. And spent. And now, to packing, fitting all the books back in, one last night of Sheila’s magic dinners and listening to words of wisdom from new writing friends by the fire.