Category Archives: Pimp my workspace

Without drama

I’ve been in Devonport for a week now and feel like I’m settling in. I surprised myself in how territorial I am – the Writer’s studio did not feel like “mine” until I had rearranged the furniture:

Studio MKWC

Plenty of light with the windows either side, facing a wall so I can post up notes and the bookcase within reach for textbooks etc.

Those eagle eyed may have spied some notes already on the wall (there are more above the desk out of shot) and there is also a jar of potato water/mashed potato/flour on the book shelf. Can you see them? I thought it would be nice to grow a Michael King Writers’ Centre Rewena bug. It’s in the studio because there’s one of those automatic flyspray things in the house and I don’t know how microorganisms fare in the wake of those intermittent pssts.

I’ve been here a week and I’ve yet to write my play; which is already tying me in knots of guilt even though I have been working. I thought I’d take advantage of the luxury of time as a full time writer and read some books about writing. I’ve finished reading The Art of Dramatic Writing by Lajos Egri (it was mentioned by Christopher Vogler when he gave a seminar in Wellington on the Writer’s Journey). I’m mucking around with my premise at the moment. I’m hoping at the end of the exercise I will be able to actually answer the dreaded “So what is it about?” question with a confident… well, I’m still working on it!

Egri argues that once you have a strong premise character will unfold from it – that my character will be the only “person” in the world that can prove/disprove my premise; that they would be the type of person to get in that situation and to react in the way that they do. There’s also some interesting stuff about character arcs – how the transition from their emotional state in the beginning must track smoothly and logically to the state at the end.

The most interesting thing for me in the book was the little glimmer of bitchiness.  Here’s my favourite quote:

Although it won the Pulitzer Prize, it is far from being a well constucted play.

OK – I’ve never read the play (Idiot’s Delight by Robert E Sherwood) so Egri may be right; but I’m pretty sure it must have some redeeming qualities if it won a Pulitzer Prize. A case of sour grapes? Maybe Egri’s on work was passed over for that playwright’s work? Or do writers’ create drama where there is none?

Speaking of which…

I was woken at 2.30 in the morning on Sunday by the other writer who was staying here because of a “situation”.  By which she meant she was calling the cops because some kids were drinking (? I don’t actually know if they were drinking because she hadn’t looked out the window) on the tennis courts across the road. So I stayed up for a bit to appease her, desperate to tell her about the real situation that actually warranted calling the cops that had happened on this mountain’s namesake in Wellington.

When I was living at the Fever Hospital (yes the one that the SPCA plan to move into) a woman knocked at our door – her boyfriend had attempted to kill her and thought that she wouldn’t find any help in the middle of nowhere, but she found our place.

So I could have been a dick and said “This isn’t a situation, that was a situation”* but I held my tongue – the other writer did, after all, run out of the room when I was watching the mild “thriller” The Return (and no it wasn’t because of the bad acting – I had sat through The Princess Diaries 2 with her).

No drama here. None whatsoever.

(Can you tell I’m reading about subtext now?)

*hands up everyone who thought of Paul Hogan in Crocodile Dundee. If you didn’t – re-read that bit in an Aussie accent. If you’re too young  to remember Crocodile Dundee, the Simpsons parodied it in the episode when Bart goes to Australia and the Aussie sayss to him: “I see you’ve played knifey, spoony before”…and if you’re too young to remember that – Youtube them.


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Filed under Michael King Writers Centre, On being a Writer, Pimp my workspace

Cut and Paste – Update

Whew! I got my entry into the 6 Pack yesterday morning, so I’m having the rest of Easter off before launching into my novel rewrite. It feels as if it has been a very long week, even though it has been shorter (with Good Friday and all).

I have been half cursing the earlier arrival of Easter which meant I had to get my entry into the post yesterday to arrive in Auckland on Wednesday because of the public holidays, and half blessing the early arrival of Easter because it meant I had a whole day to work on the extract. But it’s in the post now so all I have to do is wait…

The Rewrite

A couple of problems that I had to solve rewriting an extract were: how to make the extract read as a story onto itself but also make the readers want to read the rest of my novel; and how to simplify the story of the extract.

The latter was fairly easy; I condensed two train journeys into one, and the initial grouping of all the paragraphs into themes/topics helped to sort out the underlying drive of the story – Mae’s search for her apprentice.

I think I succeeded with the first problem as well, again because I had a clear idea of what this aspect of the wider story was about – the search for an apprentice. So simply Mae at the beginning of the story needs an apprentice and by the end has found one; but she hasn’t actually got one…yet. There is enough for the extract to be satisfying; but also some tantalising unanswered questions – will January accept the job? What’s her story?

The reader finds out about what Mae does (she’s a Graphologist), what her work entails (examining handwriting to find out the true personality of people), why she needs an apprentice (to finish her manuscript) and why she needs one now (she is getting old and feels that she will die soon).

I think it’s a pretty robust extract, but I guess I’ll have to wait to see if the judges think so!

It has made me think about the novel on the whole and whether I have made things too complicated at the beginning, hopefully a re-read will put my mind at rest, I haven’t looked at it since December so fingers crossed for a pleasant surprise! I’ll let you know either way…

The Cut and Paste Method

It has been a very enlightening experiment, and something I would definitely put in my bag o’ tricks to use again (apparently it is a well worn method of writing in my whanau – both my husband and my sister have used it in the past. Is that where I got the idea from? As I writer I know there’s nothing original, but there was a little thrill of invention involved in this. )

I liked the physicality of moving the pieces around and stepping back as a painter would to a canvas. However, I don’t think my walls would feel the same. I talked about the experiment with a colleague at work which lead to a daydream of the ideal study/studio. She said a wall of corkboard, blackboard and whiteboard. I myself would leave off the blackboard (even though it looks very stylish) because I hate using chalk.

The wall of whiteboard sounds appealing. I read somewhere that Anne Rice writes on her walls when inspiration strikes, but I don’t know if I could live with that( and I definitely know my landlord couldn’t). Half of the stuff I write on my whiteboard doesn’t make any sense. At the moment I have “allergic to yellow” and for a long time I also had the word “peanut”.

I said I would like a magnetic wall – then I could move my pieces around like giant magnetic poetry.

All of this reminded me of one of my favorite blogs to visit On My Desk. It is literally what is on people’s desks – their workspaces and how they work. I guess what makes it a little less geeky (a millimetre or two, surely…) is that the desks are those from creative field; artists, designers, writers…

So it has inspired me to “pimp my workspace”, starting with a giant magnetic board for cut and pasting. There are large, cheap canvases at our local Price Buster and my plan is to get a couple and bolt them together, find some magnetic undercoat and then make the whole thing pretty ( I have some vintage wallpaper that I’m fond of). The only thing that’s holding me back is the cash to get all of the supplies and the fact that it is a public holiday and everything is shut. Ah, well. It will be a long term project I guess!

I am also thinking about replacing my ugly whiteboard with something more aesthetically pleasing – I plan to experiment with a couple of surfaces…

I’ll post pictures of the projects when I’m done. Maybe I should take a before shot of my desk now. The changes will be very incremental on my budget!! I love a make-over, don’t you?


Filed under Pimp my workspace, The Graphologist's Apprentice