A lesson in creative writing

Thursday, June 30, 2016
Shivaun Plozza

Photo of a long desk in front of a window
Glenfern Writers Studio

Shivaun Plozza was one of our Glenfern Fellows in 2014.

In the lead-up to this year's fellowship deadline, Shivaun tells us why spending three months in Glenfern was such an extraordinary experience.

I’m going to start with a quote. I know, I know, but bear with me.

‘Here is a lesson in creative writing. First rule: Do not use semicolons. They are transvestite hermaphrodites representing absolutely nothing. All they do is show you've been to college.’ - Kurt Vonnegut.

So Vonnegut isn’t feeling the love for semi-colons. I’m actually pretty fond of them (in fact, they’re my second favourite form of punctuation, the first being the thoroughly sexy en dash) but I do have my own punctuation punching bag: the exclamation mark.

My reasons for hating on the exclamation mark aren’t the point of this article (though please feel free to tweet me and I’ll happily rant about this most loathsome punctuation). I simply say this so you can appreciate what it takes for me to write the following: last year I was fortunate to receive a Grace Marion Wilson Fellowship for an emerging writer and spent three productive, inspiring months in a writers’ studio at Glenfern – and it was wonderful!

And here are four reasons why:

1. The solitude

There are nine studios in Glenfern (plus a lovely troupe of classical pianists and an antique tool collection) but it’s a focused, respectful and quiet place. Each day I got to spend eight hours indulging in sustained, productive writing – sometimes with a little classical piano tinkling in the near distance. No internet, no dude loudly mowing the lawn next door, no niece or nephew banging on my door demanding playtime. Just me, being a writer, in my studio, plugging away. Bliss.

2. The other writers

I got to fan-girl over a few of my favourite YA authors while passing them in the corridor, but hanging out under the same roof as other writers is always a pleasure. Glenfern isn’t a place to socialise but that doesn’t mean there aren’t opportunities to indulge in a little tête-à-tête in the kitchen, compare notes, and commiserate over deadlines and writer’s block. Writing is easier when your next-door neighbour is going through the same I-hate-myself-and-everything-I’ve-ever-written-but-what-does-it-matter-I’ll-probably-be-dead-tomorrow moments as you.

3. The building and surrounds

Glenfern is beautiful. Downstairs some of the rooms have been restored (to serve as locations for the filming of Ned Kelly, apparently) but most areas remain comfortably shabby and characterful. Which is how I like it. My room was huge, complete with couch, comfortable chair and blanket. A large garden surrounds the house, perfect for cups of tea and freaking out over structural disasters.

4. Taking myself seriously as a writer

This is the big one. My studio at Glenfern was the first dedicated writing space I’ve ever had. There’s something about forcing myself early out of bed so I can sit at a spacious desk in a writers’ studio to tinker away all day that made me feel like a bona fide writer. I’m not saying you can’t write a novel at the kitchen table (because most of my novel Frankie was written on trains, in bed or on floors) but it can be hard to take yourself seriously when you have to fit writing around your day job, family and inadequate writing spaces. So just the few days a week I spent treating my writing like it was a valued job, like it was worth the effort, like it was important and deserving of a dedicated space, has made a huge difference.

So thank you to the Grace Marion Wilson trust for providing the fellowship and thank you to Glenfern (and the wonderful Iona Matthews and Fiona Wood) for an enjoyable and productive time, worthy of exclaiming about.

About Shivaun Plozza

Shivaun Plozza is a YA author, editor and manuscript assessor. Her debut novel, Frankie, was released in April 2016 through Penguin.

On this website, you can read our interview with Shivaun about how to use early drafts as a springboard, her advice on how to be ruthless, or her explanation of what it means to be a manuscript assessor.

Update: Shivaun will be running a Write-ability workshop on What About YA? in Melbourne in August 2017 and a regional workshop on Writing YA in Bendigo in October 2017.

About the Glenfern Fellowships

Since 2007, Writers Victoria has offered writers the use of a Glenfern writers’ studio for a period of three months, thanks to the support the Grace Marion Wilson Trust. The Fellowships give authors the time and space to write, as well as the opportunity to be involved in a vibrant community of writers in the historic surroundings of the Glenfern mansion in East St Kilda. Applications for the 2016 Glenfern Fellowships are now open.