30. 07. 2020
Deadlines and Discoveries
Written by Lisa Semmler
Edited by Libby Parker
Before (July 2019) –
I am not a writer. I am just someone who likes to write.
“Real” writers write all day, every day, with endless cups of coffee (or something stronger) in rooms filled with beautifully bound books, and with brilliant minds filled with clear, structured stories that flow effortlessly from their pens to fill pages.
To pick up a pen or to type away on my laptop was not an everyday thing I did, so therefore I could not be a writer, could I?
This time last year, that’s what I believed of myself when I saw a suggested post on Facebook for Writing Place. The day I saw the post was the last day to apply and it was open to 18-26 year olds. I turned 27 the following month. Two deadlines I just barely made. I remember laying on my loungeroom floor finding examples of my writing that could be good enough to be accepted. I also had to create a tiny piece on the spot from the prompt, “This was Urgent Yesterday”.
I sent the application off, accepted an afternoon well spent and tried not to wait for the email.
A few weeks later I received an email saying I’d been accepted and that I’d be traveling from my hometown of Griffith, New South Wales to South Australia with 13 other young regional writers from all around Australia. I was very shocked, to say the least. I reread the email a lot of times just to make sure I read it correctly. I would spend almost two weeks in South Australia surrounded by creative young people devoting our days to just writing. I felt scared and excited. An adventure awaited…
During (September 2019) –
Two flights later, I landed in Adelaide, a place I hadn’t been to since I was a child. I only had fuzzy memories of Rundle Mall and the Zoo. I’d arrived a day early, with a bag full of notebooks, my laptop and a million pens. I spent a night of apprehension not knowing at all what the next two weeks would bring.
I arrived at Carclew for lunch. I had Googled it quickly, but I didn’t realise it was a castle. Amazing! We all introduced ourselves in the sunny grounds under the haunted turret room. An hour later and we were loaded on a bus for a four hour drive to Pichi Richi Park. It felt like a school camp.
What followed was a week of friendships with the other writers and the mentors, moments of silence to myself, group gatherings by the campfire and steep walks up the hill to get a drip of reception and a stunning view of Pichi Richi Park. At first, I felt intimidated by these wonderful writers as they shared their backgrounds around the campfire. These people were talented, interesting and kind, and they had confidence in me. Confidence I’d never before had about my ability. They talked about my characters as though they were real people, they made connections with my story and their own experiences. I did the same with theirs. The weather was hot and sunny, mixed with a few gloomy days which added to musings of our teenagerhood memories, such as that feeling of being so different you could never think anyone could possibly understand you.
I remember thinking, this time next week I’ll have written a ten-minute play. It seemed unachievable, but then I thought how close I’d come to missing the deadline in the first place. I got to work until it seemed slightly achievable, then worked some more until it was achieved.
We sat and we wrote, and we ate, and we drank. We shared our stories; there was no judgement, only help and advice and investments in our characters like they were sitting amongst us. Everyone’s stories started to come to life and it was magical watching the process. Some people had their story set from the start, some changed and changed again; some had an original idea that flourished into something even better.
Time went slow and fast at the same time. We took a group photo on the last day at the park before we traveled on to Whyalla. We were now a little family, chock full of in-jokes. We spent the newly cherished phone reception following each other on our social media accounts.
That night we would be listening to local teenage actors read our scripts in front of guests from the industry. I wore heels in celebration of my completed monologue, ‘I wore heels, so she wore heels’: a story about two girls figuring out the strength of a friendship after their childhood ends and they are thrust into the “real” world of adulthood. It was a huge night. The girl who read mine did an incredible job; all the kids did. We all received feedback and got to chat with people like us, just further along in their journey. The actor who read my play told me she could relate to the characters as I wrote, as it reminded her of her own friendships and that was the highlight of my night. We went to McDonald’s afterwards. It was really late and we all sat cramped together on the tables laughing, taking photos and sharing our meals. It was an unforgettable experience.
The last day of Writing Place was spent along the shoreline of Whyalla beach. We sat as a big group and spoke about our experiences; we set goals and wrote letters to our future selves. It felt intimidating to write to a future me. So much could happen once this was over, but then it was over and after another two flights I was back home determined to make this the start and not the end of my own writing place.
After (2020) –
My apprehension to write a letter to my future self was perhaps a little psychic intuition. My life has changed since I sat amongst the seagulls at Whyalla and most of it not for the better. However, for my writing, a new-found confidence has developed for me. It might not have been a fluke I got into Writing Place. Seeing the writing process come together to create monologues by all fourteen writers made everything seem possible. Our book has launched and watching my fellow writers share their other works gave me the confidence to start doing so as well. Sometimes to start is all that it takes, no matter how close to the deadline you are.
As a collective we shared the excitement of our plays being published in the book, This Was Urgent Yesterday in May. I’ve also been reading my new friends’ work and sharing in their own journeys, “after.” We held a Zoom book launch party and it was like I was back at the park, gathered around the campfire listening to what they are working on and the opportunities that have opened up for them. They seem possible to me as well now. I would recommend opportunities like this to anyone who’s ever thought, “maybe I could…?”
I’m so glad I didn’t miss that deadline.
This blog is one in a series of reflections from participants of 2019 project Writing Place.
Writing Place was a nine-day residency held in the Flinders Ranges and Eyre Peninsula of South Australia in September 2019. Fourteen participating writers spent the residency with mentors Emily Steel, Caleb Lewis and Mary Anne Butler undertaking master classes, small group tutorials, one-on-one sessions and dedicated writing time in a formative creative experience. The scripts created were shared in a reading for invited guests on the second to last night of the residency and subsequently published in a collection by Currency Press called This Was Urgent Yesterday in April 2020.