I won’t write much of Robyne’s bio here, as she’s filled us in on the rest in her essay. But here’s a quick overview:
Robyne has enjoyed a career spanning almost 30 years in media, marketing and communications working across newspapers, television and radio. She was senior media officer with the Australian Olympic Team and has coordinated three Write around the Murray Festivals. Robyne’s been published in a number of magazines and anthologies, self-published two short story collections, and has also run creative writing workshops.
You can find her at her blog, Robyne with an ‘e’, and she also writes for Border Cafe. Copies of her short story collection, The Only Constant, are available from the BookPod bookstore ($20 + P&P).
A Life of Writing Prompts
I’ve always loved words. The look of them on the page. The shape of them in, and the sound of them as they leave, the mouth.
I wrote my first poem in Grade 3 when I was seven years old. It was a poem about mermaids and mermen.
On the shimmering ocean shore
Lies the golden sand
And underneath a tiny door
That leads to mermaid land.
The mermaids have bright faces and
Fins of bright gold
The mermen have kind faces and
Are so brave and bold.
This is how I remember it, but perhaps I have rejigged the lines …
Fast forward to 15 and working through the confusion of people dear to me divorcing. Not my parents, but a couple I babysat for. Again, poems in a little notebook with the ‘Love is’ couple on the cover. And a poem about a future with a boy I fell in love with … set at the birth of our first child.
When I was 17, I went to Mitchell College of Advanced Education—now CSU Bathurst—to study communication. I did a couple of units of creative writing, but I now know that it was the reading I did that has influenced my writing and also still influences my reading. I often return to the works of Thea Astley, Elizabeth Jolley, Carson McCullers, Margaret Drabble, Ursula Le Guin and Margaret Atwood—it is perhaps Atwood that has had the biggest influence.
My major was journalism, but I switched to studying public relations because of a lecturer’s comments that I would ‘never have a career in media’. On leaving university I worked for a small PR firm in Wollongong for a brief period. An argument between the two partners meant the business and the job disappeared, but as fate would have it a job was available at WIN Television and I began my life as a journalist in 1980.
My journalistic career continued until the early 1990’s with a break of five years to have my two children. My creative writing output was nil. Working as a broadcast journalist and then switching back to PR in 1992, running a home, and later my own media and public relations consultancy left little time for creative writing so my creative writing output was still nil.
In 1997, I began some scriptwriting for promotional videos, then in 1998 began teaching in media studies, but it was the events in my personal life that would be the catalyst to my real career in creative writing. My mother had breast cancer, and later ovarian cancer and died at just 62 years of age: only four years older than I am now. I wrote a short story in a day and it was if emotions had been unlocked and from then I have produced at least one short story a year.
I found it was the short story form I loved … and which other writers who I have met since that day believe is my genre. Since having my first short story, The Basket and the Briefcase published in 2003, I have been consistently published in anthologies and online. I self-published two collections of short stories – The Basket and the Briefcase (2003) and The Only Constant (2012)—taking the view that as my artist friends produce work for an exhibition, hire a space, cater for the exhibition opening—I could do the same in book form.
And then at the end of 2012, again one of those ‘signs’ of where your life is meant to go, a Facebook ad appeared for the Masters in Cultural and Creative Practice at Western Sydney University. Teaching in the course was a writer whose work I have come to love: Gail Jones. The other ‘I absolutely must do this course’ hook was that doyen of Australian publishing, Ivor Indyk, would also be teaching and, as it turned out, he became my supervisor.
The course was made up of five units as well as our major project. The project I proposed was a contemporary story of a woman who felt geographically and emotionally isolated, with her great grandfather’s story forming the backdrop to hers. Ivor considered it a good project, but as I only had 10,000 words for the creative, asked if I would consider concentrating on the historical aspect my great grandfather’s story. And that is how I came to write historical fiction. I am now extending that work to a novella.
In that year with the project, assignments—both critical and creative—guidance and tutelage from an outstanding group of writers and academics I thrived.
Outside of my studies in my three-year Sydney sojourn I had work published in Four W, Seizure, Tincture Journal, and I won a prize for a poem, Parramatta Morning. I was one of the writers for Studio Stories in Parramatta, Seizure’s Late Night at the Library and an editor for NWG’s ZineWest
I didn’t ‘just write’ any more (I probably never really did that. There can be as much research for a short story as there can be for a longer work). I was no longer in a hurry to get whatever I had written out there. I was willing to give it time and space (although as a journalist my experience of being deadline driven was the only thing that got me through).
I learnt how to take feedback and criticism. Real criticism, delivered in an environment that made me a better writer. I became less defensive. I listened.
I’ve been back in Albury about 14 months and although I’ve done little creative writing, I constantly think about my work in progress and have set goals this year to finish a draft of the novella by year’s end.
Recently in Melbourne I viewed the Indigenous women’s exhibition, Who’s Afraid of Colour? A work by Destiny Deacon evoked not only a new poem, but a knowledge that I am not afraid to write.
If you’d like to write an essay for Writers in the Attic, you can contact me here. I’m booked until mid-May, so that gives you plenty of time to write something! I love reading every essay I receive, so please don’t be scared to take the plunge.
600-1000 words is a good length, and all I ask is that the topic is writing-related—anything to do with your writing life or what writing means to you.
I acknowledge the time and effort involved in writing these pieces and send a small gift as a thank you.
Next Week …
I have someone very special in the attic next week: Natasha Lester. I can’t wait to post her essay—I’m bursting, actually, because not only is Natasha a good writing friend and mentor, who’s always been at the other end of the phone or email with kind words to help me over a hump, but she’s written a very special piece for the attic.
By the way, Natasha’s latest book, ‘Her Mother’s Secret‘, is available from tomorrow. Find out more by clicking the link.
As I read, I sometimes wonder how important it is to have formal education behind writing. It seems like such a long journey, though, and I’m guessing that short courses by reputable writers is my best recourse. Thanks for this article. I’d welcome insights from others as to how they learn the craft of writing.
I’ve often wondered the same thing, Susan—whether I should have enrolled in a writing course at Uni. I’ve talked to other writers about it, especially those who have studied creative writing at Uni, and read loads on the internet (there are many American articles on whether an MFA is worth it).
Each year I used to say to myself that if nothing happened with my novel by the end of that year, I was going to enrol in a creative writing course. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve looked into it. Then, during that year, something would happen that meant I should keep working on my novel. In the end, I said to myself that if I ever had to assign it to a bottom drawer, then I’d enrol in a writing course and learn how to do it properly. (I still haven’t ruled it out, as there are gaps in my knowledge and skills.)
But I’ve got this far. Basically, I did my own creative writing degree by doing exactly what you said in your comment—participating in short courses and workshops (online and in person), reading ‘How to Write’ texts (and doing the exercises!), subscribing to literary magazines and newsletters of writers organisations, listening to podcasts, and attending writers’ festivals and writer talks. I made the most of anything that was free—like the MOOCs, and anything online.
I snavelled every titbit I could like a squirrel collecting nuts for winter—I was like a student at writer talks, with my notebook and pen, taking it all down, and gleaning whatever I could from anyone with more experience than me.
The other thing I did was seek peer review and feedback from mentors. I can’t overstate how valuable a good writing group is—it can be hard to find, but once you find other writers who ‘get’ your work, their feedback—good and bad—is invaluable.
Also, it’s not expensive to get feedback from an author/writer on ten or twenty pages of your work. That’s enough for starters because you can apply what they say to the rest of the work. Critique, as hard as it is, is one of the best ways to learn how to write—and you do get better at hearing it!
I also wrote heaps! Heaps and heaps! Hundreds of thousands of words. That’s where my blog came in handy—I committed to a post a week, and although it was a pressure, it meant I had to write, and I had to polish the piece up more than something I wrote for my eyes only. Some of my posts took me a couple of days to write—they still take hours to prepare. When I re-read some of my early posts, I cringe, but I take that as a good sign because it shows how far I’ve come. (I also can’t help but edit some of them!)
I approached learning to write earnestly, in the same way I approached learning Medicine or, indeed, learning anything. I feel as if I made my own creative writing degree, but I don’t feel good enough to graduate yet—to be honest, I don’t know that I ever will feel good enough for that.
That was a very long answer to your question and made me think I should write a blog post on learning to write without enrolling in a creative writing degree/post-grad. Thanks for your comment, Susan. 🙂
Hi Eileen, I have attended many wonderful workshops with writers and have had some of the results of those workshops – stories that had their beginnings in them, published. For me undertaking the MA was a bit of a ‘meant to be’ if you believe in such things. The timing was right, I had a project in mind, and the Writing and Society Research Centre was exactly the right place for me to undertake that study. I also very much like the academic environment. I have another Masters in Organisational Communication that I did in the late 1990’s. I love the research and the rigour I guess. I’ve been thinking about starting a Doctor of Creative Arts, but for now, want to finish the WIP, a couple of short stories that have been left unfinished (started in workshops) and some poems that need some work. Mostly for me it’s about the joy I feel when I write. I’m not an angst-ridden writer. I want to share this joy. 🙂
Oh, I loved this one, too! What an inspirational essay from Robyne with an ‘e’. Thank you both for sharing these words.
Glad you enjoyed it, Maureen, and glad you remembered the ‘e’! Thanks, as always, for your comment. 🙂
What a treat, to have Ivor Indyk as your supervisor, Robyn. It’s always so good to read the story of a writer’s journey and yours is no exception. What a writing life you’ve had. Thanks.
I don’t know of Ivor Indyk and am just about to look him up! Thanks, as always, for your comment. 🙂
Thanks Elisabeth. As well as a treat it was a little scary, but his guidance and knowledge was so appreciated. I like to think there’s a lot more (and dare I say the best) is yet to come. Thanks for reading x
That mermaid poem was fantastic. I can definitely see it in a children’s novel.
I love it, too! Especially the line about the tiny door—I can just imagine opening it to mermaid land! 🙂
Thanks for taking the time to comment Robin. I still write poetry and during the Masters one of my lecturers commented that he thought poetry was really my ‘thing’. I even won a prize for a poem, Parramatta Morning. I think the poetic rhythm is evident in my writing.