By STEVEN WINDUO
A LOT about the craft of writing is learnt. I have been writing for many years. I have yet to write and publish that major work.
I began hearing inner voices coming out from writers I was with in a programme called Writers’ Immersion and Cultural Exchange (WrICE). The programme is a partnership between the RMIT University, in Melbourne, and the Copyright Agency Asia-Pacific Partnership.
The Copyright Agency and partners, including Yale NUS College Singapore, Singapore Arts House, The National Library of Vietnam, Melbourne Writers’ Festival, The Emerging Writers’ Festival, the Footscray Community Arts Centre, and Peril Magazine ensure that the programme brings together writers from Australia and the Asia Pacific Region in two workshops leading up to the Melbourne Writers’ Festival.
The programme is a reciprocal cultural exchange and cultural immersion focused on writers and writing. It provides unique opportunities for writers in different stages of their careers to connect and share ideas across cultures and generations. WrICE residencies and events have taken place in Melbourne, Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam, China, and Philippines. Next year WrICE will have its residency in Indonesia.
I got involved with WrICE early this year, which took me to the Philippines and Australia (Melbourne and Geelong). I enjoyed the writing workshop in Geelong because it allowed me to focus on the craft of writing itself.
In the workshop I realised that even though I have been writing my second novel for a long time, I have been ignoring the craft of writing itself. The reason I have been writing one novel for close to 30 years is because I ignored the fundamentals of writing fiction itself. I could have written 10 or more novels if only I had done it in a different way than what I have been doing all these years.
From the WrICE workshops I learnt that I had not been paying attention to Point of View (POV), how many POVs, character development, and the choice of voice and narration. These are things I took for granted and struggled with in my effort to complete a novel.
Even though I have published an historical novel, Land Echoes (2014), I realise now that it also took me a long time to complete it. Now with the help of the WrICE workshops I am committed to finishing my second novel.
Writing a novel is not easy for me as compared to writing poetry or non-fiction. I must admit that writing a novel has been a difficult journey. Every time I thought I had completed the book, I would edit it and then find myself rewriting it again. This has been going on for many years.
Part of the learning process is to read the writings of others who have mastered the craft. Christos Tsiolkas, the Australian writer and member of WrICE, gave me two of his novels to read – Barracuda (2013) and Dead Europe (2005). Christos won the 2006 Age Fiction Price, 2006 Melbourne Best Writing Award, the 2009 Commonwealth Writers’ Price, the 2009 Vance Palmer Prize for Fiction, the 2009 Australian Literary Society’s Gold Medal and the Australian Book Industry Awards Book of the Year for 2009. His novel The Slap was long-listed for the 2010 Booker Prize. Since the workshop in the Philippines I have been reading The Slap to help me with my own writing. Another writer who was involved in the 2017 Melbourne Writers’ Festival was Kate Grenville, the best-selling author of Lilian’s Story and The Secret River.
I bought Grenville’s The Writing Book: A Practical Guide for Fiction Writers, which won Australia’s Favourite Writing, and The Secret River, which won the 2006 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize, the NSW Premier’s Literary Award, and was also shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and the Miles Franklin Literary Award.
During the WrICE workshop in Geelong I read through The Writing Book: A Practical Guide for Fiction Writers. Grenville explains the craft of writing fiction in very simple language and in a way that can get anyone to write fiction right away.
Everything I know but had struggled to apply to my own writing, were explained in the book. From elements of getting started, sorting through piles, character, point of view, voice, dialogue, description, design or plot, to revision and submission of manuscript were all captured in Grenville’s book on writing.
I am pleased that RMIT University has the WrICE programme that brought together experienced and emerging writers in Australia and around the Asia Pacific region. Great opportunity for emerging writers to learn from each other.
To me, writing a book requires more than the passion and interest to write. It requires both the knowledge and space to create a work. Writing grants and fellowships can help writers in their career.
Writing itself is a learning experience. Learn the craft of writing by reading the books of successful writers.
By STEVEN WINDUO