Let me tell you about a beautiful place near a town named after a poet. You might know somewhere like it, too.
Amid the bush-roar of summer cicadas and frog song in the downpipes after billowing winter rains, I grew. My little brother and I tromped through paddocks on adventures; “Yeah, yeah!” to Dad’s warnings about snakes or the swollen creek, as we were halfway out the door.
Sometimes we were brave, sometimes we were wise; the best times we took shortbread biscuits in our pockets for ‘emergencies’.
Our coastal farm was small but our house seemed big, and there was always room for more books. A cornucopia grew from the editions originally shelved in a long buffet and two 1970’s wall units. There were histories, biographies, literature, reference texts — for science, language, gardening and medicine — and all the spy novels one could ever need.
Amid the bush-roar of summer cicadas and frog song in the downpipes after billowing winter rains, I grew.
At school I learned about the Dreamtime and indigenous storytelling, entwined with the poets of my own cultural heritage: ‘Banjo’ Paterson, Dorothea Mackellar and ‘the two Henrys’— Lawson and Kendall. Kendall’s bellbirds ‘running and ringing’ in memory and on the occasional walk home from the bus stop. I flushed with pride when I realised Mum’s lovingly-curated bush poetry selection held all the poems we read in class.
What else have I missed on these bookshelves? I wondered.
Mum wrote poetry too, and it was magic.
But she knew there wasn’t a spell that would always keep me in that place. The allure of the outside world pulled hard and I went away. Away from soft morning mists cloaking gums, and vast starry midnight skies that held comets and eclipses. I flew far from Kendall, in New South Wales — boomeranging beyond my country, but still of it, no matter where I roamed.
Happily, I still do what began in those hills years ago: write. If you’re dreaming of writing a book, here are my five tips for aspiring authors to guide and smooth your way, wherever you are.
Gift yourself time away, particularly at the beginning of your book. Leave all your screens as quiet and dark as possible when not specifically using them to write while you’re there. Deep dive on why it’s important to you to tell this story, and ask yourself what you hope readers will take from it. E.g. What will they learn? How will they feel? What will change for them? Take these tandem motivations — intrinsic and extrinsic — and switch between them as needed as your book progresses.
Tap into what nourishes you creatively in addition to your writing. A broad wash of ideas and experiences may inform your work in surprising ways. E.g. Do you also draw / design / cook / play a musical instrument / paint / build furniture / speak another language? Notice how creative processes in other media or contexts differ, and are similar, to writing. This will give you greater heart on the difficult days.
Find a mentor. Whether through books, study or in person (through a formal or informal arrangement), it’s helpful to have an independent advisor who’s been where you are and will coach and guide based on your goals and best interests. This doesn’t always mean they’ll tell you what you want to hear, but what you may need to hear, in a respectful, supportive way.
Remember your body — move it as best you can, as often as you can, ideally in nature. As long as we’re safe, time immersed in the natural world with an awareness of the present moment can rapidly induce a flow state. E.g. A bushwalk, a beach stroll or even getting out in a large park or botanical gardens is physically good for us and psychologically replenishing, too.
Make your writing space inviting; allow yourself to be drawn to it. One thing I’ve relished during the past while is having my own studio space at home that’s clean, calm and inspiring. Whatever I’m working on, it’s a delight to change the mood with a good stretch, a lightly-scented candle, a pot of tea and a slice of cake. (I’ve a mug that reads ‘Eat cake for breakfast’. I can’t comment any further about that ;-)
Sara Moss is the author of GO: A memoir of wanderlust and anxiety. Receive her notes from the studio, for nonfiction lovers and dedicated aspiring authors here.