This Writing life was a great panel talk with Brooke Davis, P.M. Newton, and Don Watson about inspiration, motivation, and writing practice, and hosted by Rosemarie Milsom.
This was a generous and interesting session, with loads of funny, mostly contributed by the dry wit of Don Watson - the reason I choose the session.
Don started with his background writing for Max Gilles, then Keating, which is impressive no matter your political leanings. He said he drifted into writing without knowing, started as an academic and then became an 'uncomfortable writer.' As the session progressed you could see he still was uncomfortable with the term writer and indeed his ability. He said 'these things creep up on you' and 'are no practical use to society' - we disagree!
Brooke was a bit of a Lisa Simpson as a child, and was told writing was a hobby not a career. So initially she felt like a fraud with much self doubt. She genuinely didn't believe she would be published
P.M. didn't write when she was young but she made up many stories in her head - this was me too, I have only dabbled on and off in writing until recent years and I do need to clear some of those old made up stories out of my head! As a former policewoman, P.M. said it beat any creativity out of writing. After leaving the police force she wrote liner notes for African albums, and taking photos - some of which became album covers. She then thought to herself I could be a writer.
She was living in India and there was a triple murder of Indian Monks near to where she was living. She dealt with this and all the police work by starting to write creatively about it, and 15 years later she published her first book. She still expects to be politely tapped on the shoulder and asked to leave being told she has been found out.
The three authors discussed Fiction Vs Non Fiction next with Don saying he writes NF out of chaos. He has written fiction for films, TV, and satire, but knew he would make money out of NF. He does say he has a whole novel in his head, so let's hope he gets that down on paper.
Brooke wrote her debut novel as her Phd, it's about grief and taken from her life. But she needed distance to get the job done. Working it as a fictional novel worked best for her.
For P.M. it was the visceral shock of the triple murders, and she needed to remove and distance herself from the event and write fiction. She has written short pieces for The Drum, one about the student who was tasered and killed, and also about the heaviness of carrying a weapon. She prefers to write fiction, although she has been approached to write NF but cannot knock on doors and ask people to open up about tragedies and such.
Next up was a discussion on time-frames and how they write. Don said habits suggest regularity, but this was not the case. He also spoke of the standard of political debate and how it has declined, language has been given up. Politicians simply communicate now and do not use concrete language, it's too abstract and they bore us to tears. He went gloriously off topic many times, he also said he loved Anna Karenina and 100 Years of Solitude for their writing and how malleable the truth is.
Brooke is a more regimented writer, but feels moments of not writing are important to writing, eg to take breaks, or do some exercise. She admits she is not good with deadlines.
P.M. is messy and uncoordinated, different books need different space, she writes by hand, thinks deadlines are essential, but really hard.
The conversation morphed into the ever present (or not?) muse. Don admitted his muse comes at gunpoint. Brooke said caring for her Nan, who had had a stroke, made her realise she wanted to write about caring for the elderly and that they are worthwhile. P.M. had interest in the Royal Wood Commission and crime in the 90s including high court decisions for Cambodian refugees and MABO.
Don's advice to would be writers was to care for language. He spoke about grammar stating that if people wrote grammatically correct grammartarians would be miserable with nothing to whine about. Brooke quoted Hemingway, 'the first draft of everything is always shit.' This reminded me of a similar Gaiman quote that said something like 10% of what you write is gold, the rest is just practice. P.M. says that every published author has one thing in common, they finished a beginning, a middle and an end. And let it be shit filled with cliches in the first draft.
Don summed it up with a quote, the source I am not sure of: I will write as well as I can on each occasion.
And I guess that is all we can do.