At the centre of writing

I remember the moment I decided to join Writers Victoria. I don’t remember where I was, or what I was doing but I do remember noting the significance of the decision. It was the first in a very long series of steps to get me to where I am now. It was the moment I formally identified with being part of a writing community. I filled out a form. I handed over some money. I became (quite literally) a card-carrying writer. Of course the journey into writing was (and continues to be) far more complex than that – but I remain grateful for my membership. In those early years I simply read the member magazine (which always seemed to arrive just when I needed reminding of my writing aspirations). As my focus on writing has increased, so too has my appreciation of institutions like this. The membership fee has transformed from a seemingly indulgent line in my budget to a necessary (and cost-efficient) investment in my writing career. I’m always surprised when I meet a writer who’s not a member.

You're not alone when you're a part of a writer's community. Thanks to Luke Chan for use of this image Not Alone under Creative Commons.
You're not alone when you're a part of a writer's community. Thanks to Luke Chan for use of this image Not Alone under Creative Commons.

As Kate Larsen (aka Katie Keys) Director at Writers Victoria says, at the very least, membership of an organisation like this gives you access to the magazine (10 times a year), which includes articles about writing, and lists opportunities and competitions. Membership can also offer substantial discounts on courses and in some cases, books. If you equate being a member as a financial transaction there’s your rational for joining. For me however, writers’ organisations offer more than that.

‘The majority of what we do is information, advice and guidance,’ says Larsen. ‘We signpost to other people and we help broker relationships.’ Writers Victoria offers courses, workshops, mentoring and manuscript assessments. They hold networking events such as Salons and generally encourage their members in their writing pursuits. And theirs is a diverse group – as Larsen notes, ‘We’re the only organisation in Victoria that works with writers at all stages of their career from early beginners to professional, published and performing writers in all genres and in all parts of the state.’

Most every community has a writers centre. In Australia there’s one in each state including the NSW Writer’s Centre, Queensland Writer’s Centre (which also publishes the uber-useful Australian Writer’s Marketplace), SA Writer’s Centre, NT Writer’s Centre, ACT Writers Centre, Gold Coast Writers Centre and Writing WA.

Larsen is new to the director’s role at Writers Victoria and has set representation and support to all writers as part of her priorities. ‘That means acknowledging that CBD Melbourne is really well serviced so we need to be concentrating outside that. Right now we’re pushing regional, digital and our work with diverse writers,’ she says.

I remember a particular time soon after I left my fulltime job to pursue writing. The Writers Victoria Christmas party was the only one I went to. (And yes, it was the only one I was invited to!) At every event I’ve been to since my community of writers has grown one by one. Those early events were a little daunting but they’re less so now. It’s because I know, no matter where I sit, there will always be a card-carrying writer sitting next to me.

On poetic openings: Katie Keys

‘My preference for poetry is to find the fewest words to say the biggest thing. To carve it down until you’ve got something that evokes a much bigger world and opens it up rather than closes it,’ says poet, Katie Keys. True to her preference, Keys’ poems are tiny (less than 140 characters). She harnesses the new media galaxy by publishing a poem daily via the Twitter handle @tinylittlepoems. New media is to poetry as it is to long form: a medium that has both disrupted traditional channels and provided new ones. ‘I’m a big advocate of Twitter in particular as an amazing creative catalyst for poetry,’ says Keys. Twitter's brevity promotes the clarity and distillation of language she likes to read in poetry. But another big part of Twitter’s appeal is that it often reaches people who might not buy a poetry book.

If you want to be a writer, find an opening in your schedule to write. Thanks to Rupert Ganzer (loop_oh) for use of this image Open lock box at the Senckenberg Museum in Frankfurt am Main / Germany under Creative Commons.
If you want to be a writer, find an opening in your schedule to write. Thanks to Rupert Ganzer (loop_oh) for use of this image Open lock box at the Senckenberg Museum in Frankfurt am Main / Germany under Creative Commons.

‘Poetry is still (unfortunately) fighting off the bias of being an elite impenetrable art form. The general populace is still recovering from poetry as an idea of something you learn by rote, that is not enjoyable, not for them and not accessible,’ she says. Twitter provides a mechanism for Keys to talk to others about poetry. ‘I spoke to a guy recently who said, “I’m still struggling with it, but you’ve made me think about poetry as something that doesn’t rhyme,” Well great! I’m excited by that,’ she says.

The conversational aspect of Twitter has also helped Keys with her professional development. ‘You get automatic feedback on what’s working and what isn’t. I very rarely get direct critique – but I can see from the number of retweets or favourites which ones are stronger. Over four years that’s helped me hone and develop,’ she says. In addition, publishing poetry via Twitter has lead to Keys’ participation in conferences and events where she works as a poet in residence. At a recent event in Alice Springs she busted out 170 tweets in four days! (And next week she’ll be poet in residence at Melbourne’s Art Centre).

Over time Keys has adjusted not only to Twitter’s size limitations but also to the discipline of publishing daily. ‘I’m a compulsive editor. I had to let go of that in order just to push it out, to be writing everyday and to meet my own deadlines,’ she says. She writes most of her tiny little poems in long hand first – scribbling, crossing out and editing. Like all of us, she has good days and bad.

‘[Before I was a writer] I spent a lot of time and energy getting upset at myself for not doing what I know I love to do: I neglected my writing,’ says Keys. Ahead of starting @tinylittlepoems Keys often told herself she was too busy to write. (Yet she noticed increased productivity when she set her own arbitrary deadlines – such as that for NaNoWriMo!) One day she stopped making excuses and set herself the task of writing and publishing a poem to Twitter every day. This was clearly a turning point in her writing career and something she encourages for all writers.

‘Write every day. It doesn’t matter if it’s good – it’s just about getting it down and working out whether it’s good later. It’s taken a long time for me to feel comfortable with this; but [thanks to writing everyday] I can now happily call myself a writer.’

From July 27 to August 2 Katie Keys will be the poet in residence at Arts Centre Melbourne, she’ll be sending tiny little poems via Twitter as well as the Arts Centre’s LED signage.