On Writing

Writers, editors, agents, publishers and more share their thoughts, experiences and stories.

 “Where you from?” In the 16 years that I’ve been writing for publication I have had the opportunity to work with various editors. When I embarked on co-editing the anthology ‘Coming of Age: Growing up Muslim in Australia’, I understood the process of editing a book, but I didn’t realise the way it would transform my view of the publishing industry. I would soon find out that there is a reason for the saying, Wait until you walk in someone else’s shoes.

“It takes a lot of milk to make a little cream,” says Catherine Deveny. The proverb gives an insight into her writing approach, that of letting everything out on to the page until she gets to the good stuff.

1. Please yourself

When me and my best mate Tama Pugsley set out to mountain-bike 1500 kilometres through the wilds of northern Mongolia from a small town called Mörön to a smaller (and scabbier) town also called Mörön, I wasn’t planning to write a book about it.

When asked about their thoughts on Eddie McGuire’s comments last year about Adam Goodes, the most frequent response I received from my Aboriginal friends was: “Well, you’ve got to laugh”. To an outsider, this might be interpreted as simply laughing the incident off – but there is something very serious about laughing in this context.

What was your training for writing comedy? How did you get started, and how did you get your first big break?

Well, this is embarrassing. My comedy writing training all came from using Twitter. I’ve written nearly 15,000 jokes and observations on it since I started my account five years ago. Though, I’m pretty sure that’s how Mark Twain started too.

I view social media in the same way I view flossing my teeth; I understand the benefits but most of the time I can’t be stuffed. I regard online crowdfunding with even less reverence. In fact, I can often be found screaming at my computer screen, “I just don’t think a Veronica Mars movie needs to be made!” or “I’m not interested in funding your online homeopathic/dog hair reading business! You still owe me money from Christmas!” But last year one of my internet-based dreams came true.

I’ve been wearing my actor hat of late, having spent the past few weeks rehearsing a play. In keeping with an almost accidental trend in my career, it’s a comedy. And it’s my favourite kind: lots of laughs served with a generous dollop of heart.

When I released my first book, ‘The Floatation Tank’ in 2007, I thought I’d send it to some of my favourite writers. I can’t say that first effort was art; it meandered for half a book before it hit its straps and is – if anything – a bit of fun involving cults, nympho­maniacs, the media and (of course) the Collingwood Football Club.

Of the writers I know, few make a living from their work – or not much of one. No holiday pay. No super. Precious little savings. No shouting the bar at Christmas. They write to be published, but it rarely happens. They write to assume their modest place in the palace of arts and letters, but the doors are often closed or no one answers when they knock.

headshot of Lee Kofman

Even a writer is not an island. Most of us mix with other writers, either out of want or necessity. However, unsupervised encounters between writers may result in unintended injuries – external and internal. So here are some suggested rules for harm minimisation when associating with fellow scribes.