Over the past few months we’ve shared top 10 writing tips from a range of famous international authors including Margaret Atwood, Zadie Smith and Jonathan Franzen. In this post we thought we share advice from an Australian writer that we greatly admire, the wonderful Cate Kennedy.
Cate Kennedy is a novelist, poet and short story writer based near the Broken River in north-eastern Victoria. Her 2010 novel, The World Beneath, won the People’s Choice Award in the New South Wales Premier’s Literary Awards and her most recent poetry collection, The Taste of River Water, won the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for Poetry in 2011.
Here are Cate’s Top 10 Tips for Writers.
1. CLEAR A SPACE
For the moment, try to forget about marketability, prizemoney, fame, fortune, or who’s going to play you in the miniseries. None of these spurs will actually allow you to write a better story as you’re sitting staring at the blank page. Instead, try to visualise your unwritten story as something to approach with a respectful curiosity, something you need to pick up carefully in both hands.
2. GIVE YOURSELF PERMISSION
You’re going to spin this out of thin air, so let your subject matter creep up on you from wherever it comes from, and permit yourself the playful mental spaciousness to pay it some non-judgemental, sustained attention. Get a good look at it.
3. UNPLUG YOUR INTERNET CONNECTION
There is nothing in the world you need to research or investigate at this moment, except what’s already bumping around in your head. Do yourself the favour of turning off the external, distracting stimulus for once. You don’t need more information – you need to see the patterns in what is already there.
4. TRUST THE POWER OF THE STORY
Don’t worry too much about where it’s going, or the direction it’s taking you in. This is not a cerebral, analytical process. Your rapier-sharp judgment and compulsive need to solve it all can come into play later. Just trust that you will, at some stage, come to see the story that is emerging in what you are writing.
5. YOU ARE AT YOUR MOST POWERFUL WHEN YOU ARE AT YOUR MOST VULNERABLE
Feeling hesitant, nervous, queasy almost, about the raw revelation needed to give away your deepest secrets? That’s the way. Sit tight.
6. ENGAGE NOW, DETACH LATER
Try to see this as a two-stage process – the hot stage and the cool stage. That egotistical little voice on your shoulder, whispering about control and competence, whining for your attention? Gag them for the moment. They’ll have plenty of time to show off later, when you’re redrafting and have achieved, through this process, a little more detachment from your work. For now, plunge in. Nobody’s watching – you’re allowed to skinny-dip.
7. GET OUT OF YOUR OWN WAY
Don’t overthink this. A story is an offer, not a claim. Writing with something to prove – your extensive vocabulary, your arcane bits of knowledge, your cleverness – will trip you up like clown shoes. Learning to write wholeheartedly instead will let you gradually burn away the lurking pretention and self-regard which will choke your story to death. Your inner voice is the one that has true pitch; your ego-ridden voice is dangerously tone-deaf.
8. COMPASSION AND A GOOD MEMORY
An unbeatable combo for storytellers and writers keen on getting better.
9. PREPARE TO FIND THIS TIRESOME
Here’s the thing – at the other side of your boredom (and disillusion, and aggrieved sense of entitlement) lies your better, more honest self and your stronger, more powerful story. Mastering your distracted restlessness will get you there, solitary minute by solitary minute.
10. THERE’S MORE THAN TEN TOP TIPS
as you’ll quickly find as soon as you get to the end of your first draft. Stories are living, breathing entities; they refuse to be corralled by aphorism. So…
11. KEEP GOING ANYWAY
until you no longer get a stitch every time you try, until you feel like sharing it, until it becomes its own reward. By then, it’ll be knitted into your DNA, so it’ll be too late to even consider giving up.
These tips were originally posted on the Black Inc Blog in 2010 to celebrate the release of The Best Australian Stories 2010, edited by Cate Kennedy.