Our guest speaker was Brigid Lowry who talked to us about writing, the life of a writer, and her latest book, ‘Still Life With Teapot‘.
Brigid was born in Auckland, New Zealand, into a strange but very creative family. Before turning to writing, she was a hippie, a waitress, a software tutor, a librarian, a mother, a wife, and a primary school teacher. At the age of thirty-five she returned to University to do a BA in Creative Writing. Since then, she’s published poetry and short fiction, and eight young adult books. Her second novel, ‘Guitar Highway Rose’ was a bestseller, and won the WA Hoffman Young Readers Choice Award. She’s also won grants and residencies, and taught creative writing at Curtin University.
These days, Brigid’s a Zen student, a grandmother, a drifter, a dreamer, an editor, and a creative writing teacher. She’s fond of chai, the ocean, coloured pencils, found objects, and fairy dust. Brigid loves to inspire people of all ages to explore their creativity, truly, madly, deeply.
Brigid’s most recent book, ‘Still Life With Teapot’ is her first adult title. It’s part-memoir and part-advice for how to live a creative life. It’s quirky and honest, and heartfelt and meaningful. I’ve read it and believe it ranks right up there with ‘Writing Down the Bones’ by Natalie Goldberg and ‘Bird by Bird’ by Anne Lamott.
Here are some of Brigid’s wisdom and inspiration:
- Trust the writing process. This was her biggest take home message. Keep at it, keep writing, even when you don’t know where you’re headed.
- Applying for a grant is, basically, ‘bullshitting’.
- When Brigid has taught creative writing, it’s the writers around the middle of class, the average to above-average, who eventually make it. It’s not the ‘shining stars’. And the difference is ‘bum glue’—that is, discipline.
- Brigid asked us to answer four questions:
(a) What stops me writing?
(b) What do I love?
(c) What do I think I ‘should’ be doing?
(d) If I could have an artistic date, what would it be?We then went around the room and shared an answer to one of these questions, and found we all share similar fears and loves and shoulds.
‘We all breathe out of the same nose.’
Our fears, desires, needs are all the same, including the fear we feel when writing—that, ‘I’m an idiot’, or ‘I’m a dunce’. Every writer feels it, so acknowledge it. (And keep writing.)
- When you sit down to write, set the bar low: Don’t aim to write a novel; start with the aim of writing four interesting lines.
- Brigid also works as an editor and mentor, and said there are two types of people who are difficult to edit: Those who won’t change anything, and those who change everything. Editing is meant to be a relationship—listening to each other and working together.
- Brigid had a few book and author recommendations:
Natalie Goldberg’s ‘Writing Down the Bones’ and ‘True Secret of Writing’
Anne Lamont’s ‘Bird by Bird’
Sylvia Ashton Warner
Diane Ackerman’s essay ‘What Writers Do’
Helen Garner’s ‘The Feel of Steel’
I’ll include part of the excerpt Brigid read to us from ‘Still Life With Teapot’.
‘The article I liked most claimed there’s no such thing as writers’ block. Instead, one of three things might be happening. One. You can’t write because you’re dealing with a major life event such as a health issue or the death of a beloved. Once this is dealt with, your writing will flow. Two. Your work has a technical problem. Your story is in the first person but would work better in the third person, or you need to do more research. Define the problem. Fix it, seeking advice if need be. Three. Your well has run dry. Take a break. Feed your soul. Nourish your creativity. Inspiration will return.
But if you feel you must write, here are my tips.
Write with every ounce of your being. Write as if your hair is on fire. Be the writing. Apply yourself to what Owen Marshall calls ‘the necessary strict toiling with language.’ Don’t wait until tomorrow, next week, after Christmas. There’s no perfect time to write. There’s only now. You want to be a writer. Okay. Stop whingeing about how hard it is. Stop being a lazy bugger. Show up for work everyday and give it everything you’ve got.
Brigid also gave us advance notice of a book coming out in September in which she has an essay, called ‘The Book That Made Me‘. It also features essays by Marcus Zusak and Sean Tan.
A reminder that submissions to the Dorothy Hewett Award close on 1st August. The manuscript can be fiction, narrative nonfiction or poetry, and includes hybrid genres such as verse novels or memoirs. The winner will receive a cash prize of $10,000 and will be offered a publishing contract by UWA Publishing. Click the link for more information.
Also, the Avon Valley Readers and Writers’ Festival is on 9-11th September. For more information and tickets, click the link.
Our next meeting will be on August 21st, with a 10am start. Hope to see you then.