Review : An Isolating Endeavour

Press Room blogger, Farz Edraki, review the panel, ‘An Isolating Endeavour’.

Writing is a lonely business, right? Unless you’re a member of a writer’s group or you have sympathetic friends, you’ll spend a lot of your writing time alone, crouched over a laptop or notepad. (I’m writing this from my Newcastle youth hostel bunkbed, nursing a headache with a two-day-old bottle of orange juice I found at the bottom of my car, contemplating my future alone, reading half-baked stories out loud to my five cats.)

Imagine, then, that you’re a writer in a remote or regional area. Not only are you engaging in an inherently isolating activity, you’re also doing it in a physically isolating setting. That’s precisely the dilemma facing three writers who spoke on a panel at this year’s National Young Writer’s Festival (NYWF): Jessie Cole, Summer Land, and Lachlan Brown.

Joined by moderator Alysha Hermann, these writers spoke on the theme of “An Isolating Endeavour”. Does writing alone help you be more productive? Or is it better to be a part of a community of writers?

For Jessie Cole, writing started as a form of personal communication, a way of trying to explore and understand the suicide of two of her family members. “I really felt like I needed somebody to speak to,” she told the crowd at NYWF.

Once Darkness on the Edge of Town was published last year, her private practice of writing soon became the subject of public fodder. Living in an isolated valley in NSW meant that people she knew and even inspired her fictional characters – her neighbours, family and friends – were reading her book.

“It is really scary when you write something really personal and intense and everybody in your town buys it,” Cole said. “I do wonder how my town at large feels about my book; obviously, I feel there’s some level of judgement – that they’re being represented, or being seen.”

Writing in and about a rural setting was also a challenge for poet and author Lachlan Brown. He said that there’s writers are under pressure to accurately try and represent a place – especially when it’s the only thing that’s being written about it.

Brown made the point that it’s only once you’ve left a town that you have the perspective to try and think about different ways of representing it. He added: “[T]he very gesture of writing is a gesture of distancing yourself from something, because there are now words between you and that thing.”

That may be the case of Summer Land, a US expat now taking root in Mudgee, NSW.  She said that living in an isolated setting like Mudgee allowed her to write more productively, free from distraction.

“I still find inspiration all over … by people-watching, or going to a bar,” Land said. Her novel, Do As I Say, Not As I Did is a memoir of her mid-twenties in her native Florida.

Her advice to young writers stuck in a small-town? “Bloom where you’re planted … wherever you are, you’ll get somewhere else. Just keep going.”

Writing is a lonely activity, but you don’t have to do it alone. Chances are if you’re reading this after a weekend of meeting and talking to people TiNA, you’re doing something right.