Guest Notes

Writer’s notes

8 September 2018

9:00 AM

8 September 2018

9:00 AM

On writing

Every writer writes an ‘on writing’ piece. So here’s mine.

Last week in Melbourne, I went to a writer’s festival that didn’t have real writers.

There was an animal high priestess, a medium who talks to dead pets. There was an attempt to communicate sonically with bats and I thought I spotted an imaginary seal that could balance bowling balls on its nose but was only doing this to support himself while working on his novel.

I particularly liked the session on Chaucer and totemic white male privilege as if you left your keys with them and were male they would do a full wash and wax for under 30 dollars within the hour.

They didn’t invite Germaine Greer because she might upset someone. Apparently Germaine’s Q&A dig about Julia’s backside a few years back didn’t go down that well and she is no longer an AFL-approved feminist.

Every writer’s festival needs a Germaine in case the tires need rotating.

When criticised during a radio interview about the self-inflicted lefty stack at the Melbourne Writers Festival, the Director Marieke Hardy objected to the interviewer’s ‘hurt-feelings voice’ because that made it all sound worse than it really all was.

Which was Marieke giving away trade secrets, as isn’t all writing just that hurt feelings voice usually written in a loft paid for by your parents? I felt like I was watching that show Breaking the Magician’s Code where the hunky-masked guy explains all the secrets and you feel dirty while telling your children afterwards.

At the 2016 Brisbane Writers Festivals commentator Yassmin Abdel-Magied walked out in protest during a session. She was mad at American novelist Lionel Shriver for advocating an imagination crime by speaking approvingly about cultural appropriation and how it is all a bit silly to get too upset about it.


To make her point, Lionel put a Mexican sombrero on her head and used humor which is a technique still legal in some communist states but this did not go down well with Yassmin at all who is surprisingly literal for a writer. This is probably due to her background as a mechanical engineer.

Yassmin wrote a letter to the New York Times about this and it got published. Which is a good get for any writer, don’t you think?

But what is a writer these days? I asked myself this recently when I didn’t want to actually write but would rather sit in a coffee shop and stare out the window. I wasn’t able to come up with much of an answer until I looked at the barista.

I recently sought advice from an old friend who was a communications executive but who has now moved into money. He told me the writing jig was up as there are now sweat shops in the Philippines full of marketing graduates churning out media releases for $5 each and they will even write speeches like Martin Luther King’s inspirational ‘I have a dream’ for $10 because as they point out it’s really just a lot of repetition and all in the delivery anyway.

He said, ‘there’s no money in it Michael, none at all’ as he dangled from the chopper and made his escape from communist Northcote to a mortgage in East St Kilda.

A word on the professionally-trained writer: I once worked with someone who kept telling anyone who was near the coffee machine that she was a professionally- trained writer even though as far I could tell she never wrote anything worth reading let alone anything published though this is not necessarily the same thing.

I thought this was a cry for help resulting from a damaged childhood but then I realised that this is what she actually meant and she was only pretending to be damaged.

Like me, she is currently not working on her novel and will shortly not start that essay on the existential pain of being a professionally-trained writer who just can’t get over the writer’s block.

Writer’s Block: Writer’s block is another thing to think about when you aren’t writing; is writer’s block a real thing or just an excuse like football players falling over and claiming they have cramp?

There is an interesting link between mathematics and writing. I once read an article about someone looking at old original beer-stained manuscripts of Hemingway. In the top corner of each page he saw faintly penciled 280, 300, 385.

At first he couldn’t work it out, then the penny dropped that Papa, just like every other writer, did a word count as he wrote, anxiously noting it every time wondering if it was enough and would he get paid.

Question: Could even the great Hemingway be that insecure as a writer?

Answer: Well he did blow out his brains with a shotgun at his home in Ketchum, Idaho.

There’s a book to be written about all those writers who became writers because they couldn’t pass maths yet are now dependent on arithmetic and medication for their psychological well being. It will need to be written in an ironic tone and published in California where irony has just been declared legal if used for medicinal purposes.

20th century writing genius T. S. Eliot used to work in a bank to make ends meet, but his rich friends saw that he hated it and that it interfered with his poetry so they created a fund so that he could resign and concentrate on his writing and never need hold a real job other than being called T.S Eliot again. The moral of the story is to choose your friends wisely.

On the last night of the Festival I went over to the Woke Room as it sounded like a fun place to go where all the interesting writers and the drugs and the dog medium would be.

But then I went in with my glow stick and unpublished manuscript and it was just a bunch of middle-aged, bearded and overweight, academics claiming they were Jim Morrison while getting treated for sleep apnea.

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