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When it comes to being a writer, writing’s just the start

In an intimate back room at Glenferrie Hotel, a nervous group writers are gathered to share their creative work.

Some want to speak, some are undecided. Nursing glasses of wine and mild cases of jitters, the next generation of storytellers prepare to read their writing out loud in front of their peers. 

There are stories of childhood, nature, humour and heartbreak. After each reading, the emcee highlights a strength of the piece and thanks the reader for the honour of hearing their work.

The list of people left to read dwindles, and bolstered by the courage and support of their fellow student writers, every name on the “maybe” list presents as well. The night concludes with the emcee reading aloud a line of each reader’s work back to them, letting them know their words have been remembered. 

This is Tell Me Tuesday, Swinburne’s spoken word event for its writing community. Dr Jacqui Ross, published author and teacher of creative writing at Swinburne, believes participation in these public platforms is one of the keys to success as a writer.

When it comes to being a writer, writing's just the start

Jacqui Ross believes writers engaging in the wider writing community are more likely to be published. Picture: Claudia Harvey.

“From my experience as a teacher, it’s the students and the writers that put themselves out there that get published,” she said.

“All those things that you hear about getting out there and being part of festivals and being part of open mic sessions … is just the best advice I can give.”

The Australian Society of Authors’ 2020-2021 report said that of the 1249 story pitches presented at their literary speed dating events, 44 per cent received an expression of interest from publishers or agents. 

But getting published is only a sliver of what is required to create a publishable piece. The process usually begins with that first, and often tiny, inspiration.

“There’ll always be the beginning, the first little idea, which is like a seed,” Ross said.

“Then something serendipitous starts happening. I start doing a bit of research and thinking more about the idea, and other ideas seem to attach themselves to it in a way that is kind of a bit mystical.

“For that to happen, you have to learn to be observant and be always on the lookout … whether that’s when you’re scrolling through something online … or you overhear a snippet of conversation, or you simply get a word that might come to you that you know is going to be the right word.”

Then comes the challenge of actually writing.

“My process for the first draft is to force myself to do a certain amount of words a day … and then when I get to 50,000-60,000 words, I’ve got a very ugly draft,” she said.

For me, in subsequent drafts, not a single word of that or sentence of that remains the same.

While every writer has their own unique writing process, a common theme among authors seems to be a perseverance in the face of rejection.

According to the literary website, Literary Hub, some of the biggest bestsellers were rejected dozens of times – Stephen King’s Carrie and Frank Herbert’s Dune to name a few.  

“Make a habit of every time you get a piece rejected you send it straight back out again,” Ross said.

“I’ve had hundreds of rejections in my writing life and will continue to, I’ve got no doubt. It’s just part of it, so you have to learn to not let that stop you.”

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