Sam van Zweden



ngv studio

On The Importance of Planning

This is a delayed post from my time at the Future Bookshop. Written during my 10,000 word day, this post took me to the finish line, and was the exhausted pinnacle of a day where I learned an awful lot about myself and my writing process.

I’ve just spent a whole day (10am-10pm) writing. I’ve written a combination of my novel/memoir, blog posts, and a first draft for a future article I’ve got an idea for. I’ve never spent this kind of a stretch of time writing before, and I’m absolutely stuffed. I expect to spend a fair amount of time just staring at a blank wall when I get home. I’m now in my final fifty minutes of writing, and I want to reflect on how badly I’ve planned my day, and how much more smoothly my day might have gone if I’d planned it effectively.

Indeed, this blog post is the result of hitting a dead-end after running my well of ideas dry for my manuscript and blog post and article ideas. True, I didn’t have a lot.

Before today’s writing session, I wrote down about five or six scenes I thought I’d like to write for my book. I just wrote down one sentence reminders of what the scenes were (“Hospital glass window”, etc). I also wrote down some blog post ideas (“Review: Summer Without Men, Hustvedt”). What I failed to take into account, however, was that I just might not feel like writing these things. As we all, no doubt, know from writing classes or workshops, it’s really incredibly hard to write something you’re not interested in. In fact, even if you’re not a writer – you probably know this feeling from your history of writing essays and papers when you’ve been given a list of topics that are all pretty boring.

What I’m trying to say here is that it can prove invaluable to plan out your time effectively. When you lose steam on one scene, move to the next one: and have a list that will be difficult to exhaust. If you’ve got a really long list, it’s unlikely that you’ll hit the end of it.

I also looked at my Now Write: Non-Fiction book last night. I thought about writing down some of the exercises, but I didn’t. I also thought about bringing the book in with me, in case I got stuck. I thought that would be just too naff, and so I also didn’t put the book in my bag. I just wrote my little list composed of a handful of ideas, and when I started writing I ran that list out pretty quickly.

One piece of advice I really should’ve thought about is Patrick O’Duffy’s idea of reaching 30,000 words by breaking the novel/book/piece of work down into 30 x 1000 word chapters. Write the skeletons of those chapters. If all you need to do (all, like it’s nothing) is pad out the prose, flesh out characters with detail and emotion, your job becomes a whole lot easier. Patrick outlines a heap of great ways to keep the words coming in his post, Welcome To Write Club.

However, I did not do this. My five or six scene ideas ran dry. I remembered one particular idea from Now Write: Non-Fiction, and I ran with this for quite a while. I got almost a thousand words from that exercise.

I considered googling “Now Write: Non-fiction prompts”. In fact, I tried to do this. But the great irony of the Future Bookshop is that there’s no or very patchy, dodgy wifi here. It drops out constantly, and today it’s been on the blink far worse than any other day I’ve spent at Future Bookshop. Of course! The one day I wanted to use the powers of the interwebs for good, to further my productivity, it decides to not work at all. Every other day when I’ve wanted to find a lolcat or read about some useless fact or other, or check my email twenty times in twenty minutes, or Tweet furiously about the security guards here at NGV (a singularly interesting/boring breed, by the way. Interesting/boring being a strange tension). And so I counted on my imagination to prompt where my writing went to next.

The imagination is a fickle beast. “The Muse”, as some might call it. It comes and goes. So when I put lots of flowery prose into something to fill up time or words, and I still came out dry, then I had to change tack. I had to move to another project, another way of writing, another scene. I had a document running in the background just to keep me writing. By the end of the day this document was at almost 1,800 words. My usual Morning Pages measure at about 750 words of faffing about, getting cobwebs out of my head in order to start the day fresh and clear. Today’s document acted as both a palate cleanser and a KEEP-WRITING! prompt.

Effectively planning comes in handy not just for marathon writing days, but for all writing days. I am currently about two weeks into my school holidays for Winter. They’re seven or eight weeks long. I haven’t fallen into a routine yet, but when I get time I know how it goes.

I wake up, and I read something inspiring. I read something non-fiction, so that I’m constantly learning, even when I’m not in classes that force me to learn (or not). I follow this up with some fiction, because you get better at writing by exposing yourself to lots of awesome things and just… absorbing. So that’s what I do, I absorb the work of someone far better than myself and hope that it wears off on my own work.

I then write for a few hours. I engage in what Aden Rolfe calls “Speculative Administration” (in his Business of Writing speech for EWF) – planning markets for my work, planning where I’d need or like to be in future, scoping out how much time I realistically need and what kinds of work I need to do to get to where I’d like to be at the end of the year. Or whatever the goal may be. Short-term and long-term planning. Both are important.

But lest I sit around staring at a blank page or end up writing a blog post about how important it is to plan your writing days constructively (even factoring in this “speculative administration” – planned pondering), I’m putting it out there, backed up by two weeks of largely unproductive holidays and a 10,000 word day that relies on this blog post.

Plan your days well, young scribe. Plan them well.

A 10,000 Word Day

Having watched many amazing people participate in The Rabbit Hole during the Emerging Writers’ Festival, I’ve no shortage of respect for those who can write large amounts in relatively short periods of time. Part of it is about the ability to continue producing work continuously, so the brain-power, but the other part is something else entirely, it’s about being able to sit still and do one thing for that long. It’s admirable, and I’d like to join the club of people who challenged themselves and surprised themselves with what they could do. I joined in for a few hours during The Rabbit Hole, but I’d like to give a really long haul a shot.

So here I am today, at the Future Bookshop (at NGV Studio) from 10am to 10pm. There will be a break in the middle for a meeting at 12.30, then straight back into it. The aim: 10,000 words in 12 hours. Possible, right? That’s 833 words an hour. Minus the time I’ll be at this meeting, so let’s count on just over a thousand words an hour. That’s achievable.

…Or is it?

I’m starting the day at the work table – not letting the posture go to shit until at least after lunch. Later in the day I’m allowed to crash in a beanbag or couch, but for right now – posture’s the bomb. There’s a lot of foot traffic coming and going through the Atrium, where the freakin’ huge Saturday Book Market is on. I’ve already started making deals with myself – at 5,000 words, I can go buy books. I’ve put a sheet of paper up on the ideas wall to track my progress, with check-in times for my wordcounts throughout the day.

I have troops on side, Lisa Dempster currently in a couch by the window, and Karen Andrews working furiously on an iPad beside me. No doubt they’ll help keep me going, and vice versa.

I’ll keep you updated via Twitter and Facebook, and I’ll do another post about the experience tonight or tomorrow!

The Many, Changing Faces of the Future Bookshop

The first day I came to Future Bookshop, it was quiet and cold. I snuggled down into a bean-bag, glad for somewhere so comfortable to kick back and write. I was surrounded by people I know, working on projects I know about. I felt well and truly embraced in a creative womb.

I came down to the Future Bookshop on Saturday night to try and get some serious writing done. And the really awful weather means that I can sit in this big, glass space and look at the outside and be glad I’m not out there. I was expecting the same quiet space that I’d chilled out in during the week, but when I walked in there were about fifteen people between the ages of fifteen and sixty-five. This troupe had with them a guitar, and they all sat very close together. Occasionally two or three would break off and come sit at the table with me, and brainstorm. I gave little smiles to them, but nobody smiled back or introduced themselves. They were all happy enough doing their brainstorming.

This circus-creativity was big and interesting, and it made me think – is this the future of the bookshop? If content is all moving online, does the space of the bookshop become a place where people meet to discuss that content? Or to plan it? Does bouncing ideas work as affectively online, or is face-to-face still the best way to do it?

Another Tuesday, another Future Bookshop stint. Today there are four writers in residence in the NGV Studio space, all working together at the tables.

Megan‘s writing a blog post, and asking us for input. It’s nice to be able to contribute in real-time, without having to wait between emails or inboxes. It’s nice to be able to connect with a blogger, but not via their comment section. In Future Bookshop, Real Life and blogosphere mingle.

There are lots of children walking through the space – we’re next to the Kids’ Corner here – and looking around in wonder. I can’t imagine what the QR code wall looks like to a child – I’m supposing something like one of those Magic Eye puzzles made up of colours and patches of pattern.

The work wall keeps growing every time I’m here. It now contains a choose-your-own-adventure comic, blog posts, an interactive fiction gaming map and the beginnings of a discussion of self-publishing.

The Future Bookshop is an ever-changing beast, Bookshop 2.0, where the people inside it shape its content. Just like the digital space.

Live from Future Bookshop!

The Future Bookshop exhibition is in the studio space at NGV. The sound of school groups bounces off the high ceiling and stone tiled, as it’s connected to the NGV foyer where they gather to collect chairs and debrief before moving on to the next cultural experience.

The Future Bookshop is amazing. When you walk in the door (just inside the atrium) there are two big armchairs to your left, with a bookshelf containing a bunch of interesting things to read.

Right in front of the door is a wall, plastered with more QR codes than you’ve ever seen together in one place, all of which link to a different article/podcast/video/collection of thoughts about the future of writing and reading. There are also big copies of articles from The Emerging Writer, the EWF publication, which talk about interwebz and writingz.

In the middle of this QR code wall is a panel with USB sticks poking out of it. Hook whatever USB-friendly device you’ve got up to these and download free ebooks, as well as loving words from the artists’ collective behind the USB installation.

Next to this is an “ideas wall”, and under this is a table with paper and pens. You’re invited to participate by sharing your ideas about the future of books and writing and putting them up on the wall.

In the middle of the room is a table, where you can sit down and join the writers in residence as they create. Of course, not all writers in residence make use of the table. I ditched it pretty quickly in favour of a beanbag (see below – photo via @lisadempster), and another writer is currently kicking back in one of the armchairs. May I say – ALL writing places should have beanbags. It might just be an exhaustion hangover from the Festival, but the ability to sit equal parts vertical and horizontal in a squishy surface is really relaxing me and making the creative juices flow more easily.

Another section of the front wall houses works-in-progress from the writers in residence. Up there so far: Tully Hansen‘s room-plan (see below), blog posts from Sophie Benjamin, and Julien Leyre had stuck something up right before I left.

In the middle of the room also is a pole intended for structural integrity, which the Future Bookshop makes use of. There are headphones hooked up to looping podcasts, which visitors can sit down and listen to. Not just any podcasts, but Paper Radio podcasts – these guys podcast stories, with really nice sound things happening in the background.

Next to the residents’ work-wall is a wall with book designs, and an interesting statement about the weirdness of books being super-accessible with free content around, but also becoming really expensive moving forward as they become obsolete.

The back wall has copies off all the Signal Express, the EWF/Signal Express daily newspaper from during the festival. They did an amazing job, pumping out two articles and Twitter highlights every day throughout the festival.

Tucked around the corner is a screen with looping vlogs with thoughts about the future of bookshops, books, reading and writing.

Along the glass wall that faces the atrium are lots of lamps, all switched on. The future looks bright. But we don’t want to make light of the future either. They’re just lightening the atmosphere. We’re trying to shed some light on where we’re headed. Hopefully people are smart in the future too, and just as switched on. Puns finished.

So that’s the space. Check out Tully Hansen’s floor-plan (relevant to his very cool work – photo via @lisadempster) to help you envisage it.

Even better, come down and visit to get a REAL idea of what’s happening.

During my time at the NGV studio, I’ll be blogging. I’ll be doing posts about the future of the book, and what it means to be writing and reading in the digital age. I’ll also be drafting blog posts for after the residency, and saving up a little back-log of stuff. Talking with Angela Meyer last week reinforced that this is something I should do continuously – if I’d had more posts/drafts on hand during the end of semester, I wouldn’t have gone silent when my workload grew. And so that’s what I’m doing at NGV. Making Little Girl With a Big Pen happen.

One fellow writing resident, Julien Leyre (who was one of the amazing writers who crossed that 30K mark at the Rabbit Hole!) is spending his time here translating a blog into French and Chinese. So maybe the future of books and writing is a place where things are more accessible.

The thing I love most about working in digital spaces is the way that readers are able to feed back. The ways that readers become creators. This is reflected really well in Future Bookshop, and that’s what excites me most about the space. The audience is also the creator, those who are watching feed back into the space, and by having people in the space it becomes something else. It’s evolving. That’s what the future of the book is all about.

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