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Sam van Zweden

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residency

A Week of One’s Own

I spent last week as a writer in residence at RMIT non/fictionLab’s new creative space, the Urban Writing House. It’s a gorgeous studio on campus in the city, decked out with comfy and stylish furniture, and all I needed to put my head down for a week to work on my book.

I spent the week working on structural and formal elements of my manuscript. It was in dire need of a print-up-and-shuffle-around, having grown in dribs and drabs without too much attention to order – and so I took to the walls with a bunch of blu-tac and shuffled to my heart’s content. I was surprised to realise that some of my short vignettes belonged together as longer bits, and I worked on building a map of the different narrative and conceptual strands that weave throughout the project.

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This cleared the way for more words to be written, and for greater purpose in my moving forward: I have more of an understanding of where the work’s going, and for the shape of what I’m saying in it.

What was most interesting about the time, for me, was what it was like to spend intensive time with my work. I haven’t had a chance to do this in a long while – usually I’ll be writing smaller things alongside work on the manuscript, or have days where I don’t touch it at all after coming home from the day job too tired. When I was doing Honours, I was in the lab most days. My process then involved approximately equal parts jubilation and despair. I’d have an awful day and be utterly convinced I’m incapable of doing good work, and particularly this work. But that day would be followed (perhaps not immediately, but eventually) by a day where things click into place and I take a large step forward. My week at the Urban Writing House replicated this pattern.

Throughout the week, I softened. I walked in on Monday with a militant, no-nonsense attitude to my need to work. By the Saturday, I was being much kinder to myself, and this helped open my mind up to creating worthwhile work. After an awful day on Wednesday (wandering, crying, crying, crying), and many kind and encouraging words from many wonderful women, things picked up – or at least evened out. This shift can be seen clearly through the mantras I wrote on the blackboard in the space, as reminders of what I thought was important and helpful at the time.

They appear below in order. The shift in my attitude toward myself and my work is pretty clear.

There’s one more, from my first day, which for some reason has deleted itself from my camera roll.

They read:

Monday: The thing about writing a book is, you have to write the book. (Possibly inspired by this wonderful post). 
Tuesday: Just do the things.
Wednesday: Be deliberate.
Thursday: You won’t finish it today. Stop trying.
Friday/Saturday: Allow discomfort.

‘Allow discomfort’ was such a good fit that I kept it for two days.

While it was only a week, I feel like I learned a lot. I got good work done. It was a great reminder to be more present (working more regularly helps), and more kind to myself.

This gorgeous little space is evolving. It’s documenting itself. I left my gratitude and story in its guest book, along with the words of the residents who stayed before me. I left a little keepsake on the shelf – a tiny jar with a few sprigs of rosemary in it. I work best when there’s some leaves nearby, and rosemary is often used as a mnemonic prompt in rituals – weddings, funerals, religious ceremonies – so it appears in my work.

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I’m so grateful to the non/fictionLab for providing me with this space – my work and my process have benefited greatly.

Opportunities a Plenty

Being involved with EWF more closely this year has opened my eyes to the amazing amount of opportunities they have available for writers, outside the festival itself. There’s a bunch of deadlines coming up, so I thought I’d just do a heads-up for anyone that might be interested in these opportunities. I’d encourage people to apply, because EWF’s a fanastically supportive atmosphere, and a wonderful starting point. Having this stuff on your resume is so helpful, and in terms of experience it’s priceless. And some of these are lucrative. Woot.

–> The Monash University Undergraduate Prize for Creative Writing. Most prizes are almost impossible for an undergraduate emerging writer to win. They either require a publication history, or a whole book, or a completed manuscript, or… a bunch of stuff a lot of undergrads just don’t have. The Monash Prize has a large bundle of money to give to its winners, it’s for previously unpublished writers (see website for specs on this), and entries are reasonably short pieces of writing. Winners are also being published as an ebook by Penguin. Entries close April 23rd.

–> Words In Winter Writer’s Residency. A two-week writing residency at “a high-profile CBD location”. The theme is a future of writing, which is a pretty hot topic at the moment. If you’re concerned with digital story-telling, blogging, ebooks, self-publishing, or anything that’s wrapped up in the idea of the “future of writing”, then apply for this residency. There’s ten spots available, and EWF’s offering a publishing opportunity post-residency. Applications close April 20th.

–> Australian Poetry’s fantastic Cafe Poets program is launching their next round as part of the EWF in May. The program puts poets in cafes as writers-in-residence, giving the poet a space to work, free coffee, and an outlet: contact with the public. Applications close April 24th.

With all these opporunities available, you’ve got no excuse not to make stuff happen. Give it a go! Entries for all these close very soon, so get writing!

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