Please Allow Me to Pick Your Brain…

September 22, 2009 at 9:16 am (Uncategorized)

Simonne over at Into the Quiet is the queen of the multitask, and one of the many balls she keeps in the air (along with Charlotte at How to Shuck an Oyster) is coordinating the Varuna Alumni Blog. Varuna, the Writers’ House (good grief, I’ve never seen so many links in so little text, it’s a bit migraine-inducing, sorry), is the wonderful facility at Katoomba in the Blue Mountains where the Darklings met during our Professional Development Residency last year, and where Simonne, Charlotte and many, many other writers have spent time working, eating, and in my case oscillating wildly between hysterical laughter and blubbering tears. It’s a very special place, and unsurprisingly over the course of its history, Varuna has attracted some very special people.

All of which is why I was so gobsmacked when yesterday Simonne asked me to be the Varuna Alumni Blog’s guest blogger for the month of October. I mean, I don’t have a published novel to my name! I don’t even have an agent! It’s like allowing a kindergarten child to address the high school seniors. My first response was “Are you sure?” but Simonne assures me she’s in earnest. Naturally this made my day. Talk about chuffing – I was perfectly rapt to be asked. Of course, accepting the invitation brings with it a rather large dilemma, namely what the hell am I going to write to keep much more experienced and successful Alumni entertained and interested over four weekly posts? Oh god. What have I done?!

I’m hoping you’ll help me, my blogging chums far and wide, because you’re all writers, and are therefore an excellent resource for me going into this month-long gig pretty keen to make a good impression. Nothing complicated, mind you, but all guest bloggers thus far have focused on aspects of the craft, and I assume that’s my remit too. I guess more than anything I want four topics that will really encourage conversation, because that’s ultimately what the Varuna Alumni Blog is all about.

The blog is still in its infancy, being only a few months’ old, but what interests me is that the readership so far consists almost exclusively of Alumni Members. I find myself wondering again, with this new and urgent imperative to play my own part well, if that’s the intention. It’s lovely reading about all the ways in which we’re similar and our practices converge, and just as fascinating and instructive discovering all the ways we’re not and they don’t. It’s part of building that community of writers that’s so incredibly crucial to certainly my own development and sanity, as well as, I suspect, that of many others. But presumably one of the potential benefits of the blog is attracting more writers to Varuna and its many programs, thus growing the Alumni base and building Varuna’s profile. Doubtless it’s also a means of growing the online audience for its current members. I just wonder how those things will be achieved when, really, we’re currently speaking only among ourselves.

I keep coming back to my years Before Varuna (BV). I still get pretty chronic fan love seeing some of the names of participating authors on the blog, and I am terrified of doing a bad job in front of people I admire and respect so much. To be in their company at all is a complete revelation to me, and a huge leap forward from where I stood not much more than a year ago. From that cold and lonely place, I sent echoes ahead that I can still hear now, and I guess I feel a duty to that bewildered, beleaguered self to send word back to others like me, to call back the way I came to let them know that it’s okay up ahead. Keep going. We’re waiting for you. You can do it.

Of course, I haven’t done anything yet myself, but I can’t help wondering if it’s those conversations I ought to be trying to start in the month of October. Conversations with writers and readers who aren’t Varuna Alumni, some of whom might very much like to be in future, and both of whom may currently look at the blog and feel it’s not an open forum. I’ll have to check this with Simonne and Charlotte, but I imagine it means to be, but isn’t quite, and perhaps that’s something I can focus on. Which brings me to you, all of you, wonderful helpful you.

What I wonder is this. Here you have all these Australian writers, all Varuna Alumni, checking in and sometimes commenting – at the very least you have a guest blogger who’s on board for a month, writing posts about writing, responding promptly to comments and so on – what would make that interesting for you? Are there special writerly, practical subjects you’d like addressed, or would you be more inclined to read something personal, or would you prefer to ask questions of the guest blogger about their own practices and experience? I’m just wondering – and do you mind if I shamelessly steal your ideas?!



  1. Simonne said,

    A girl who’s coming prepared. I love it!

    “To be in their company at all is a complete revelation to me, and a huge leap forward from where I stood not much more than a year ago.” This is EXACTLY how I feel by the way!

    I’m digging these ideas so far… 🙂

  2. doctordi said,

    Oh yes, prepared and petrified, that’s me!!!

    It’s funny, isn’t it? Do you think they know how awestruck we feel…?

    So stoked you’re diggin’ my diggin’ – maybe we should have an email chat about what you guys want? I *really* want to do a good job, both as a writer and an Alumni Member.

  3. Charlotte said,

    Ah, Di – brilliant idea, Simonne!

    What you do here is exactly the kind of thing you should do there, in my view. You write so well about the ups and downs of the process, and inclusively – so it would work perfectly well for the varunans and the non-vs… I actually think one very good topic would be how to keep going in the face of one’s doubts and knockbacks (and occasional triumphs!?) pre-publication.

    You are actually a perfect representative of the Varuna Alumni, because I would venture to say that most (or at least a very solid half of) members are exactly in your shoes publication-wise, and it is CRUCAL to dispel the idea that the place, the blog, or anything to do with the alumni is reliant upon publication. It’s not. It’s reliant on a commitment to writing, and an attitude of generosity and openness to others doing the same thing.

    Hence, you are perfecto, senorita.

    Look forward to the posts.


    • doctordi said,

      That’s extremely gracious of you, Lady Charlotte. Thanks for the vote of confidence, not to mention the extremely good idea for week one – I know PLENTY about self-doubt and rejection! And I think even being the guest blogger in my unpublished state will go some way to dispelling those ideas – I’ll be sure to emphasise it, too, because I’d like to see some other hopefuls come out of the woodwork. Thanks! x

  4. Lilian Nattel said,

    I agree with Charlotte. Hearing about the process is valuable. Even though I’ve been around the block a few times, I still gain from reading about it.

    • doctordi said,

      I’m personally fascinated to the point of psychosis about other people’s processes, I must admit…

      • Simonne said,

        Me too! Your posts are going to be just wonderful!

  5. David said,

    I think that one of the most impressive things about you as a writer is your persistence — no, you’re not published, and don’t have an agent, but you are still passionately dedicated to the craft. I think some discussion of what keeps a writer committed — what the real and deep motivations are, for writing as an exercise in self — can be very useful to writers who are further along in the “temporal success” of writing. It’s actually very easy to lose sight of the craft once publishing begins, which is why writers often become really crappy after they get a few books out there.

    • doctordi said,

      Some people wouldn’t call that persistence, David.

      But thank you… and that’s a cracking topic for week two! I knew asking you lot would pay dividends!

  6. kate4samh said,

    So very cool Di! Congratulations! Just be yourself and you will be fab!

  7. doctordi said,

    Thanks, sis. Yes, I think I have to make sure I don’t psyche myself into some seriously bad writing!!

  8. litlove said,

    I agree with Lilian – the process is always fascinating. But whatever you write will be worthwhile and entertaining, Di, so don’t have a moment’s worry about it.

    • doctordi said,

      Thanks, LL – you’re such a positive cheerleader, I really appreciate it.

  9. Pete said,

    Yep, I agree, although I enjoy reading about your anxiety. Not that I want you to be anxious but you write about it so well! Good luck with the Varuna blogging.

  10. doctordi said,

    Thanks, Pete! I’m looking forward to it!

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