Lunch with… Mark Dapin

Mark Dapin has worn many hats – as a features writer (i.e. the “Lunch with…” series in The Sydney Morning Herald), a magazine editor, a non-fiction writer, and writer of novels. He also just wears a hat a lot of the time.

Earlier in the year on our top-rating podcast, So you want to be a writer, Allison Tait had a chat with Mark about how he writes and a whole lot of non-writing related stuff. You can check out the full interview here. And here’s some highlights from the mind of Mr Dapin…

On the variety of different projects he always has on the go, and whether they clash:
“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… And if the journalism and the fiction are stuck, I’ll do the column. I’m also doing a post-graduate degree; so if I’m not doing one of those things, I’ll do the degree.”

On his usual writing routine:
“This is my writing routine: 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. 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.”

On whether he plots out his fiction in advance:
“I’ve got a beginning and an end. Much like a feature. 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.”

What he does when he reads others’ books:
“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.”

On how feature writing has helped his fiction writing:
“Probably in a year I 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 I can do in a given time period.”

On the activity that assists his fiction:
“Swimming I find helps with fiction… I don’t know what it is… but it seems that it’s the attitude involved… 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.”

On his number 1 tip for writers:
“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. 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 fill it.”

On being true to your feelings:
“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 got 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.”

And a more specific tip:
“The key 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.

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?’ 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.”

Agree with Mark? Share it around:

Mark Dapin


You can read a full transcript of Allison’s interview with Mark here, or follow the same link to listen to the whole interview and the rest of that podcast episode.

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