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So-you-want-to-be-a-writer---Episode-14

Ep 14 Interviewing your heroes, how write to get a house, and should you use Scrivener? And meet author/columnist Mark Dapin.

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In Episode 14 of So you want to be a writer, we ask is the Internet an enemy of writers’ creativity? Huffington Post and Techcrunch establish a presence in Australia, how to make story time count with your kids, free homes to dedicated writers, the book ‘Everyone can write’ by Howard Gelman, build your following before your book deal, Writer in Residence Mark Dapin, is Scrivener right for you? And why you need to treat your writing as a business.

Click play to listen to the podcast or find it on iTunes here. If you don’t use iTunes you can get the feed here.

Show Notes

Is the internet an enemy of writers’ creativity?
http://www.theguardian.com/books/booksblog/2014/may/14/when-is-it-time-to-give-up-on-a-book

Huffington Post and Techcrunch establish sales presence in Australia
http://mumbrella.com.au/huffington-post-techcrunch-establish-sales-presence-australia-227842

Jane Kennedy shares how she makes storytime count with her kids
http://www.essentialkids.com.au/younger-kids/kids-education/jane-kennedy-shares-how-she-makes-storytime-count-with-her-kids-20140520-38m8t.html

And so I opened the suitcase…
http://www.allisontait.com/2010/04/and-so-i-opened-the-suitcase/

Write A House wants to give homes to writers in Detroit
http://www.csmonitor.com/Books/chapter-and-verse/2014/0521/Write-A-House-wants-to-give-homes-to-writers-in-Detroit

Everyone Can Write by Howard Gelman

Your Writer Platform (series on author newsletters)
http://www.yourwriterplatform.com/

Writer in Residence

Mark Dapin moved to Australia in the late 1980s. He is the author of Spirit House, Strange Country and King of the Cross, has been editor in chief of ACP’s men’s magazines, and a hugely popular columnist. He lives in Sydney with his partner and two children.

http://www.markdapin.com.au/

Web Pick
Scrivener
https://www.literatureandlatte.com/

Working Writer’s Tip
Treat your writing as a business.

Writers’ Centre Pinterest
http://www.pinterest.com/writerscentreau/

Pink Fibro Bookclub
https://www.facebook.com/groups/274090672737464/

Writers’ Centre Facebook
https://www.facebook.com/WritersCentre

You’ll find your hosts at

Allison Tait
http://www.allisontait.com/

Valerie Khoo
http://valeriekhoo.com/

Australian Writers’ Centre
http://www.writerscentre.com.au/

Transcript

Allison

Today our guest is Mark Dapin, writer of features non-fiction and fiction, and lover of roundabouts. Mark is the author of two published novels, the latest being Spirit House, and he’s currently working on a new one. I would tell you more, but he’s too busy writing to update his website. So we’re stuck in a time warp. I’m going to let him speak for himself. Hello Mark.

Mark
Hi, how are you, actually I don’t know how to update a website. I really don’t, I’ve got no idea what you do.

Allison
I suspected that may be at the root of the problem. If you’re going to update the bio on your website right now, what would it say? What are you doing? Tell us all about it.

Mark
I’m sitting at my desk, twiddling the attachment for my iPhone because I’ve just been trying to download my daily iTunes account onto my iPhone 5. Prior to that, I was writing a revision of my third novel, provisionally entitled Von Cow. Lately you rang me up, and there was confusion for about 40 minutes.

Allison
I’m good like that, I do tend to bring confusion with me wherever I go.

Mark
For at least 40 minutes, yeah.

Allison
For at least 40 minutes. All right, so you’re working on fiction at the moment, but you do switch between fiction, features, non-fiction books, a whole range of things.

Mark
When you said at the moment, I though you meant literally at the moment. This week, what have I got to do? The novel… I write the ‘Lunch with’ page for the Sydney Morning Herald.

Allison
Excellent.

Mark
I would say, I go out and have lunch with somebody, and I’ve been arranging my lunch for a week, which is going to be with a rural GP out in Port Macquarie, I think it is. But I’ve also been arranging several other lunches far into the future, the lunch, although they’re eating and writing over the lunch, probably only takes about two days out of the week, the arranging of the lunch, it just goes on forever.

Allison
Did you ever imagine that lunch could be so complicated?

Mark
Well, I’ve always over-complicated lunch, as you know, by refusing to eat certain foods and also dripping food down myself and dropping cutlery. And performing various other table manners faux pas. But no, I didn’t realise the initiative side of it could take so long. It’s, I don’t mind doing it because most of the stuff I do involves no contact with other people. I’m just sitting there writing. So I actually don’t mind that reasonable level of administrative work in a day.

Other things I’ve been doing this week, yesterday I spent part of the afternoon doing the proofs of a Good Weekend feature. Which took quite a long while because when I get proofs back from any magazine, I usually don’t read them, because I know that if I had wanted to write what the subs wanted me to write, I’d have written that in the first place.

Allison
I see.

Mark
And, you know, say I wasn’t a very good writer, I may have written it right.

Allison
Do they take the funny bits out?

Mark
No, they just put clichés in.

Allison
Oh.

Mark
And it annoys me so much that I have stopped subjecting, some time ago I’ve stopped subjecting myself to that. However, this was such an important feature for me, it was important that the historical details were correct, that I went back essentially over my own work, I tried not to correct and change things I’d written in the first place. Tried not to call them too much on their own changes. But I don’t like doing that at all. It’s the only part of my week that I don’t enjoy. Normally I’ll do anything to avoid it.

Allison
So, is it just the editing that you dislike from that perspective? Because you did edit magazines for quite some time.

Mark
I like editing, I like editing my own stuff, and I don’t mind editing other people’s.

Allison
You just don’t really like being edited very much.

Mark
I don’t see the point in being subbed and then un-subbing it. Which is what happens every time I read my own copy. If I’m going to agree to subbing in the first place, then I might as well just let it go by, you know.

Allison
I agree. So you have a fairly varied week, and you’re switching, you know, between different things a lot. Do you like the variety of that, or do you find that it kind of interferes with your creative flow and your running feature and that sort of thing?

Mark
No, it doesn’t interfere at all, if anything they feed off each other. If I get stuck with a paragraph in the novel, I can just start to transcribe a piece of journalism. If I get bored with transcription, which I tend to do after a couple of hours, I can start a different piece or a column. I also have a column every three weeks in the Murdoch Press, which is just my experience and my thoughts about something. And if the journalism and the fiction are stuck, I’ll do the column. And, as you know, I’m also doing a post-graduate degree; so if I’m not doing one of those things, I’ll do the degree. I try and end up writing another book. So try —

Allison
See how much your bio needs updating?

Mark
You see, I don’t care if people notice or not.

Allison
Fair enough.

Mark
So I try and decide at the beginning of every day, certainly at the beginning of every week, what is more important. And generally I’m ruled, I allow myself to be ruled entirely by proximity of deadline.

Allison
Yes.

Mark
At the moment, I’m concentrating on the novel just to indulge myself. I feel like doing the novel this week, and I had very hectic, a very heavy fortnight of deadlines just gone on the journalism. So I’m doing, it’s not actually wholly me saying, “I should do the novel this week.” But I’m doing as much of it as I can allow myself.

Allison
OK, so do you have a writing routine at all? Are you like at your desk at 9 AM and leaving at 5 PM every day – beyond the organising and going to the lunches, obviously.

Mark
This is my writing routine, I get up, I put on some clothes.

Allison
Good start.

Mark
Probably I get up. Sometimes I don’t, sometimes I wear what I wore to bed, which is often, as you’d imagine, an animal outfit.

Allison
And now I’m left with a visual image that I really don’t want to have. But anyway, continue, you dress. What happens next?

Mark
Oh, bless you. Well, then I start work. I come down stairs, I have breakfast, I come upstairs and I start writing. And I write until I can’t write anymore, and then I’ll go to the gym and hit the punching bag, do some weights. Then I’ll come back and write ‘til dinner time. And then after dinner, I’ll come back upstairs and I’ll write until I can’t write any more. So most, probably seven days a week, 50 weeks a year, I write all day long.

Allison
My God, you must be so much fun to live with.

Mark
Oh, it’s fascinating, I’m fascinating. Sometimes I shout downstairs and ask for an adjective and stuff like that.

Allison
Or lunch?

Mark
You know – no I always make my own lunch.

Allison
Oh, well done. Well done. When you’re not writing, you basically go to the gym.

Mark
When I’m not writing, I go to the gym or I play with the kids.

Allison
Oh, you play with the kids, yes of course, because you have two.

Mark
I do.

Allison
That’s excellent. They’re not obviously reading your work yet?

Mark
No, they’re not really showing any interest in reading it. Ben, my son who’s nine on Saturday in fact, he reads a real lot, luckily he’s shown no interest in my stuff.

Allison
All right, so why did you start writing fiction? Because you had a very, at the time, established non-fiction career, and I know that you’ve, I’ve read before and heard before that you’ve written fiction your whole life. But why did you start writing fiction for publication? You know, you were very well established as a writer of non-fiction, memoir features. What made you branch out into writing fiction for publication?

Mark
Somebody told me I ought to.

Allison
Excellent.

Mark
And I always, whenever people suggest stuff, I ask them, you know pretty much no matter what it is. And I’ll try for a brief period. It didn’t really extend any deeper than that. I think at the time, it starts with… well, I’d got a bit sick of – a lot of my journalism is dealing with eccentric people and they’re often not entirely coherent stories. And sometimes that grinds you down. Rather than thinking, “Oh, this is so colourful.” You know, you think why do these people believe this rubbish. I think I was going through one of those periods where I just couldn’t bear the eccentricities of others. And I thought, “Oh, I’ll just write something on thoughtful people for a while.”

Allison
Fair enough. So, do you plot a book out before you start writing, or do you just sort of make it up as you go along?

Mark
No, I’ve got a beginning and an end. Much like a feature. When I, for me the most important part of a feature is the intro. But the intro must lead inevitably to the conclusion. So I’m the same with a short story, a column, a feature or indeed a novel. I know how it begins, I know how it ends, it’s just the getting there that I don’t map out.

Allison
So how do you find the, because I work much the same way, but how do you find the middle of a novel? Because when you’re dealing with a feature or you’re dealing with a column, you’re looking at a much shorter trajectory, so to speak. When you’ve got 100,000 words to deal with to get where you need to go to the end, how do you go with that slog through the middle?

Mark
Through a constant revision, really. Although, as I said, there is the inevitable propulsion from one point to the next, because that’s the purpose of a narrative. It does have to take various byroads whenever, and it’s difficult, I find it difficult to know how to maintain the suspense. Because the books that I write, I guess, often have a kind of suspense at their heart. But that’s not what interests me about other people’s writing. I don’t care when I’m reading a book what’s happening in the plot, at all. I’m interested in the sentences. I enjoy reading beautiful sentences, not following an exciting story. So I’m never quite sure how to do that for people. And that’s where rewriting comes in for me.

Allison
So you rewrite as you go? You edit and rewrite as you work, or do you get the whole first draft down, and then go back and rework it.

Mark
Every day I write page notes, that’s perfect that day. And the next I look at it and I’m, “What a crock a shit.” So I revise it, I revise on that level daily. But I guess the really drafting comes in when I send it to my agent, or my publisher. Or in the case of this novel, at both stages.

Allison
Okay. So do you think your features and editing background has helped or hindered with your fiction writing?

Mark
Oh, helped definitely.

Allison
In what way?

Mark
If you write features to deadlines, then you realise what’s possible. If you write 53 x 1000 word features in a year, say, not that I ever have.

Allison
But you could.

Mark
Probably in a year have written maybe 120,000 words of journalism. If you do that, then you know it’s possible to write 120,000 words in a year. I think when people begin a novel, they’re not at all convinced that there’s enough time and space in their lives to ever complete it. But I know you can, I know exactly what really, what I can do in a given time period.

Allison
OK, you’re editing a novel at the moment. How do you go about that?

Mark
It’s a heavy rewrite, it’s, editing makes it sound like it’s proofreading. When I do it, I’ve pulled out three characters, and perhaps 12,000 words and I’m adding, unintentionally, I didn’t mean to add this, but I’m probably adding three characters and 2,000 words. So a third of the book changes.

Allison
Wow.

Mark
And how I’m going about it, It’s a constant process of puzzling through. And that’s another way for me where the journalism helps, because you can’t just sit and think and think. It doesn’t yield results. Well those results, I find because of subconscious play while you’re doing something else. And my something else, luckily for me, seems to be writing.

Allison
Right.

Mark
Most of the time it works, it’s really [inaudible]. Swimming I find helps with fiction.

Allison
Swimming? Just following the black line up and down the pool?

Mark
I don’t know what it is, and it doesn’t, I’m not likely to get stuck doing journalism anyway, but it seems that, it seems that it’s the attitude involved.

Allison
That’s interesting.

Mark
And that’s why it works.

Allison
I didn’t even know you were a swimmer.

Mark
Oh no, I’m a shit swimmer. I can do probably breaststroke for half an hour slowly in an empty pool. Luckily I have access to such a place. And it always clears my mind, and often reveals to me where the story might go, as if there were a God in the water, within the chlorine.

Allison
God in the chlorine, I like that, I think we can work with that. All right, so last question then, I need some tips for writers, give me your three top tips. And I’m sure that you are asked this kind of stuff all the time, so I’m pretty sure you’ve got an amazing list there for me, right?

Mark
I do get asked this all the time, normally I just kind of look at them, and don’t say anything really.

Allison
OK, so can you make something up for me then?

Mark
Seems to me that the obvious thing, that people spend an awful lot of time talking about writing, agonising about writing, and trying to think of ways to make themselves write, rather than actually writing.

Allison
Yes.

Mark
It seems to me that probably the best way to begin writing would be to sit down in front of a computer, open a file and then to do the best to like fill it. This is just me speaking.

Allison
That’s a good start.

Mark
I think all of the excuses about writing, about not writing, you know, I’m too tired to do this, it’s not working, I’ve go writer’s block. It’s all bullshit. All it means is that you don’t want to do it. And if you, in fact, do not want to do it, then you might as well admit it to yourself and come up with some other way to spend your day. I mean that no matter what, why I might say I write in response to questions, you know, I don’t feel the need to express myself for certain. I do not feel the need to express myself. But it all boils down to I just like doing it. I do it because I enjoy it. If you don’t enjoy it, you probably shouldn’t do it, and if you want to know if you enjoy it or not, check to see whether you do it or not.

Beyond that, I think, as I’ve said before, the most clue, or the key rather to good writing is to know how to use metaphor and simile, it an evolving process, it’s thinking of new ways to describe things.

Allison
Yeah.

Mark
And you have to, you can’t just, when you look at a sentence, you have to think to yourself, “Have I read this sentence before?” Have I read this sentence a thousand times before? Am I writing for anything. You have to look at your dialogue and think, “Is this really the way people talk, or at least a credible approximation of the way people might talk, or is this the way I’ve seen people talk on phones?”

These are the two things I ask myself most often when writing fiction. Fiction and journalism, because with transcription of dialog, transcription of interviews involves a certain amount of editing. If you actually wrote down what people said, they’d say something like, they may answer every question with yes/no. Or you do like I did and say they said something like, and then starting the sentence again. And it’s a lot of err, umm, and they get words mixed up, obviously you have to prune that to get to the kind of dialogue that people can read in the newspaper feature.

So I’m constantly thinking while I’m writing that, is this what people say? Is this the way we really sound. And I put sentences around it, which I write, that are either original or naughty or say something funny or are exciting or poetic. So for me it’s a process of, I guess, of absolutely constant self criticism. I hadn’t thought about that until now.

Allison
There you go, I’m glad I’ve been useful.

Mark
No, really it’s no use for me at all to know that.

Allison
Well, you know, maybe you can think about that later.

Mark
Like I say, I’m not interested in expressing myself either.

Allison
Well, with all that I don’t know why you bother really. Well, Mark, thank you so much for talking to us today, I’ll let you get back to planning your next lunch, which I’m sure will be very exciting. And we will look forward to your next novel. Thanks very much.

Mark
Thanks.

May 27, 2014 Podcasts Australian Writers' Centre Team

Written by Australian Writers' Centre Team

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