I didn’t have a draft of a novel to work on, let alone a second novel. No film script, no memoir. I had a clutch of OK short stories and a clutch of NQR short stories. Then there’s the letter: what would I gain from two weeks with not much else to do but ‘be a writer’? This, I assure you, was a very focusing question.
But I want to write: more and more, and more than anything (crazy, I know). Bugger me: I got selected, and I got excited.
I turned up with my mission statement and next thing I’m at Eleanor’s desk. What? Write now? I sat it out.
I wrote into and revised and edited an 1800 word story that I wanted to be bigger, fuller, expansive: next thing it was 600 words shorter. I stared out the window. I wondered if there’d been a mistake (you know, that other writer with the same name). Or if the timing just wasn’t right for me. I got out some other stories, and I started to make notes and do shit writing around the novel I’d decided a few months beforehand to try just for the exercise. I stared out the window. I got lost thinking about the novel. I got obsessed with Catholic Patron Saints and how to stack the dishwasher. About the short stories; about whether any of it mattered. I went into town for a coffee. I wrote more around a story or three and laid the pages across the desk. Scribbles and cross references and how the hell to put them back together again. I did some weeding. I flipped through the guest books munching blue cheese on toast and eating celery soup. And I went back to the desk.
Two weeks later, I had one (even briefer) draft, two more almost ready to go redrafted stories and an inspiration about the novel project with notes and research to boot. Above all else, I had an incredible new sense of what the task of writing might be about, for me. It is a Retreat after all.
So apply: apply for competitions and publication, apply for Varuna and most importantly apply yourself. Think a lot, have a lie down, then go back to the desk.
David Spitzkowsky came to Varuna on a 2010 Varuna Fellowship for Writing Retreat. From the 28th February to the 14th March, 2011 he was a resident in Eleanor Dark’s studio.