Sam van Zweden




Coming home and The End Point

That’s it. Semester over! This semester was big. Really big. Fourteen novels for just two of my subjects and that’s only the stuff with covers. At least two reams of paper, lots of ink, hours and hours of reading off my screen because I couldn’t afford to print any more. Twelve weeks of sacrificing the reading I actually wanted to do, to make room for things that were mostly worth reading, but not always what I wanted to do.

But that’s over now! It’s holidays! It’s lovely weather! The real reading can begin. I can cross billions of things off my “to-do” list, and work through the huge stacks of books that I’ve been buying but not had space or time to read. I can make sense of my writing desk, make some narratives happen, rather than torturous essays comparing texts which should never, ever be compared (Camus’ The Outsider and Jean Rhys’ Wide Sargasso Sea being the most recent hideousness).

So here I am, back at home in the blogosphere. I can blog whenever I like, I can dedicate that section of my brain to planning posts as I live. I can work my way through my poor, neglected Google Reader feed! Oh poor Google Reader…

Today I read a piece that really got my attention, which was re-tweeted by Angela Meyer. The article, “Where Did The Web Go?“, talks about a lot of things that got my attention.

First point of interest: A quote from Stephen Mitchelmore: “Finding a way to talk about the reading experience is, I’ve realised, the greatest pleasure of writing; where it ends is of no importance.” I love this quote. Stephen’s talking about how it doesn’t matter if your online literary efforts never really take off, because that’s not the point. The point is to find a way to talk about your “reading experience”. Reading is a strange thing in a similar way to writing – it’s a necessarily lonely activity, but there’s a definite pleasure in finding ways to share that loneliness. For me, LGWABP is a major way that I do that. I’m not sure that I always (…ever) provide insightful contributions, but I enjoy doing what I do. Stephen’s right – it is “the greatest pleasure”.

Second point of interest: “Choose what you want your site to be, and then do it” – I like this. Sometimes I feel like my blog misses the mark because I’m not sure what I’m doing with it. Successful blogs have something that is specifically theirs, whether that’s a layout, a tone, a bunch of memes, whatever. They own it.

Other than these two superficial things that caught my eye, the article itself is actually a great contribution to the discussion of the role of online media, in particular online literary criticism. Check it out.


Last week I posted about Ex Calamus, the new webzine I’m involved in with fellow RMIT Creative Writing students.

The latest installment in Ex Calami glory is called “Cxxx” – don’t ask me the meaning, but I do think of that particular combination of letters quite fondly now.

Cxxx is attached to the E.C website, and is another writing project based on constraints. Cxxx is all about nanofiction or micropoetry within 130 characters. Unlike Ex Calamus’ Webzine, there is no theme or time-limit. I have some work up there, and the content seems to be added to almost daily. Check it out!

…and I promise, my blog will not continue to just be posts plugging my work. I’ll write some actual content in the next few days. Cross my heart.

Ex Calamus

It’s Latin for “from the pen”. Dig? I think it’s a smart name.

Ex Calamus is a publishing collective powered by RMIT Creative Writing students. We were looking for a way to keep ourselves writing and get in practise for actual publication, and so Ex Calamus was born.

The Ex Calamus webzine is a weekly publication. On Thursday night, all Ex Calamus writers are emailed a theme. The deadline is 6am Sunday morning. So Ex Calamus is a high-pressure quick-turn-around project.

In its third week now, the Ex Calamus webzine’s past themes – “Gold”, “So don’t close the blinds”, and “This Space Intentionally Left Blank”. A different writer from the group nominates the theme each week.

I submitted a short story called “Johnno in the Easement”, about a kid who is forced to grow up in the blank space between his parents’ garage and the fence.

The webzine is available for download as a PDF document, and is uploaded on Monday afternoons. Keep your eyes on it!

Themes, They Are A-Changin’!

Today you clicked that Twitter or Facebook link here, and all of a sudden you were somewhere unfamiliar, right?

“What the hell is this?!” you said.

“White background?! Drop down menus?! This is not that same blog that reeks of default that I know and love!”

…Suck it up. You’ll learn to know and love this one. I promise.

I got sick of the oh-so-default theme I had, there was something disgustingly kitsch about it. And entirely not customisable; Thanks WordPress!

So now we have something which navigates much more nicely, is much easier on the eye than the old theme, and which I feel can be taken more seriously.

In the coming weeks (…months? Year?) the default banner will be changed to something personalised and swish. Just you wait ‘n’ see!


Have you heard about Virgule?

Virgule is the Voiceworks blog, which has been up and running for about a month now. At this stage, Virgule is penned (…keyed?) by members of the Voiceworks team, but I believe in future they’ll be looking for guest bloggers to help with content. Having said that, there’s no shortage of brilliance up there at the moment.

There’s a pretty steady stream of material going up, all of it worth a read. Earlier this week Sam Cooney made a post about his favourite opening lines. Quite an entertaining read, and one that really made me consider the importance of my own first lines. It’s strange, I can really appreciate a great first line from someone else but I never really think about making my own first lines jump off the page. EdComm members regularly post about something interesting like this.

Virgule also helps writers keep abreast of what’s coming up, not just at Voiceworks (who are currently looking for EdComm members), but also other opportunities out there in the big wide world of Melbourne publishing.

Perhaps the most helpful posts that have been going up though, are the Friday Writing Exercise posts. The exercises are open enough to have fun, but provide some ideas for more structured writing, and help develop the skill of writing to a theme, which is an important part of competitions and publication.

So add Virgule to your Google Reader, keep up to date with what’s going on at Voiceworks and partake in some of their conveniently digestible posts in your lunchtime!

110+ Ways to Waste Time AND Learn Something!

I’m good at procrastinating. Really good.

So imagine how chuffed I was when, one afternoon that should have contained much more homework than it did, I came across’s fantastic post: “110+ Resources for Creative Minds”.

And I’ve only just started working my way through this. There are countless hours yet for me to spend avoiding Derrida or TS Eliot.

There is just so much stuff on here, it’s mad. How the author (who goes by “Skellie” – whether that’s a real name or an endearment, I don’t know) has managed to compile this list is beyond me. This would have taken a lot of dedication.

The links offer ways of breaking through writer’s block, many of which are directed specifically at blog-writers, but also web pages that have various little things that might just get you thinking creatively accidentally.

I’m certainly nowhere near even most of the way down this list, but I’m up to about number 10. My favourites thus far?
Chris Brogan’s post containing 100 blog post ideas has a lot of ideas that I simply wouldn’t use on Little Girl With a Big Pen… however, there are still quite a number of ideas there that I can apply to writing and reading, and come up with a decent post from.
Scott Berkun blogs about all things creative-process, and his post on surviving creative burn-out is a really interesting read.
Ronald Huereca’s post about design decisions which annoy readers gives some really nice insight into what might or might not be holding your blog back.

There are a few dead links on Skellie’s list, but there’s so many active ones that I can live with that. I’ll no doubt be posting more stuff from this list in the coming weeks. Months. Years… It could take me a mighty long time to get through this list!

Two Options: Write or Die.

Dr Wicked’s Write or Die is an online writing tool that promises to “put the ‘prod’ in ‘productivity'”.

Write or Die enforces the above (“two options”) ultimatum on your writing. You tell Write or Die how long you’d like to write for (from 10 mins up to 2 hours) and how many words you’d like to achieve in that time. You then select your “consequences”, which range from “gentle” to “electric shock mode”, each with its own consequences. Write or Die lets your choose a “grace period” too, (“forgiving”, “strict” or “evil”) which is the amount of time the program allows to pass before there are consequences. Write or Die opens a document in your browser, and then you start writing.

Consequences for not writing are incredibly well thought-out. They encapsulate your worst nightmares. They differ in degrees of malice, from a pop-up telling you to keep writing, to “MMM-Bop” playing, to the program actually deleting your work. It deletes it in a really horrible way too, working backwards, you see your lovely words disappearing – the only way to stop this happening is to start writing again.

These things don’t just happen randomly, there is the grace period you nominated, and then the background screen starts turning red, and then the consequences happen.

I’m great with procrastination. And I’m terrified of a blank page or document. This program battles all these things in one place, stops me from staring out windows or just reading a page or two of whatever is in front of me, or deciding that the dishes simply can’t wait until after I’ve written.

There are also a heap of handy little widgets that Write or Die gives you at the end of your session, along with your stats (eg “I wrote 200 words in 10 minutes”), which you can copy the code for and upload to a blog or facebook or whatever you please.

The only thing the online version of Write or Die doesn’t do is save your work. The website contains a warning to writers, asking them to copy and paste whatever they type in the browser into a document they can save so they don’t lose it.

There is also a desktop edition of Write or Die ($10), which looks like it remedies a lot of the issues of its online counterpart. It works on your desktop, so you can’t access all the tempting things that will stop you from writing in the first place. There are also a heap of customizable entertaining and smart bits n pieces: disabling the backspace button so that the only way is forward; making it impossible to access any windows behind Write or Die; not being able to save your work until you reach your goal; and heap of awesome stats things, one of which links to Twitter so you can wage “#wordwar” against anyone in the Twitterverse who may wish  to compete.

While I have a billion things to pay off right now, the next spare $10 I get will be going towards the desktop edition of Dr Wicked’s Write or Die… Until then though, the online version gives me plenty of impetus to write. Or die.

Creative People’s Needs?

One of the fantastic links from the Creative Liberty post from last night was over at

This awesome post looks at a creative person’s hierarchy of needs (as opposed to everyone else’s, which were outlined by Abraham Maslow in 1943). Creative people, according to Cynthia of, have ten basic needs additional to those Maslow talked about.

They are:
1. Need for creative space.
2. Need for creative peers.
3. Need for creative fuel.
4. Need for imaginative space.
5. Need for the body to be expressed.
6. Need for your creative edge.
7. Need for ample amounts of faith and belief.
8. Need to have our work responded to.
9. Need for certainty.
10. Need for time.

Cynthia goes into more detail on all these points, and they’re quick interesting, so hit that link above and check it out.

I have creative space. It’s covered in washing, and under that there’s books and pens and ink and paper. But it exists, even if I rarely get work done there. Work is usually done in bed – so I guess that’s my creative space too.

I’ve recently gained some creative peers. Genuinely creative people, who want to get together and do creative things. I’ve never had that before, and I’ve been surprised by what it’s done for my creative process. It forces me to produce things, and share those things. It gets me excited again about the act of creating. So I think Cynthia’s hit the nail on the head with this one – creative peers are incredibly important and helpful. And they also help cover the “need to have our work responded to” while trying to figure out how to get published.

Creative fuel… in abundance. Thank god I live in Melbourne, where there’s something writing-minded on every day, fantastic festivals, and also a plethora of unusual things to get the creative juices flowing. No shortage of creative fuel, sometimes just a shortage of time or money to absorb it all.

One of my teachers has recently introduced me to a great idea that covers both “imaginative space” and “body being expressed” – she calls it the three-idea walk. She walks, for as long as it takes for her to have three ideas for her work. She doesn’t take her notebook or anything, and walks no longer than this, because more than three ideas in your head will lose their potency… I’ve taken up this idea and I think it’s awesome.

Also in terms of bodily expression – I miss yoga. I used to love going to the gym for bodybalance classes… Recent circumstances mean no gym for me anymore, but just concentrating and stretching really does something for me. I love it. It’s calming.

Creative edge – Cynthia calls it problem-solving “the publishing game”… oh, and what a game it is! Knowing the Right Names and Right Faces, going to The Right Events, reading The Right Publications… it’s such a huge thing to tackle, and there’s so much to know!

I think perhaps Cynthia’s gone a bit off-track when she talks about a creative person’s need for “certainty”… I think that’s everyone’s need, and Maslow covered this with his “need for security”. We’ve all got it, this isn’t new.

The need for time… I think this is a little like the need for security, that it’s something everyone needs. But perhaps it’s more of a priority for creative people. Time is a constant battle for me, and making time to write means giving up something else I enjoy doing, like sitting down to watch a movie…

So what do you think? Where do you stand with these needs? Do you think they’re right?

She promised to be free…

…and she was.

I watch her sketching whatnots in class, there’s snippets of life that she likes to pin to the edges of lecture pads.

That’s just what I’ve witnessed.

Much of what I haven’t witnessed has recently been brought into the loving arms of the interweb.

Her name is Jorja Kelly, I go to uni with her. I’m impressed and inspired by her work – particularly her drawings, they make me want to create things.

Her blog,  “A Bisonicorn Cluster Vomiting Rainbows” is a rapidly growing collection of her drawing, snippets of writing, images she’s found and liked. A very inspiring archive – keep checking back and keep your ear to the ground for this lady, she’ll get far.

She also presents a literary segment on SYN radio’s show “Arts Mitten” from 3-4.30pm on a Sunday afternoon.

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