This is the week for firsts: not only is Conor Duggan my first male guest for writers in the attic, he’s also my first Irish guest, first backpacker, first geologist, first slam-poet, first writer not to use a desk, and a whole heap of other firsts you’ll discover if you read on
And please read on: this essay is delightful and full of wisdom, and it certainly gave me cause to reflect on my own writing practices.
Conor grew up in Ireland, and after studying a BSc geology in Trinity College, Dublin, he worked for year before deciding to don a backpack and go travelling. He left Ireland on April Fool’s day, 2016, to try reach Australia without flying, but travelling by land and sea. After three months of trains across Europe, Russia, Mongolia, China, and SE Asia, he finally flew to Perth, where he has stayed and says he won’t be moving anywhere else soon.
Conor spends his time doing long stints (eight weeks) in the Outback, doing exploration surveys for prospectors and mines.During his time off, he plays hockey, goes clubbing, and attends any festival that’s on, recently spending a small fortune on Fringe shows. His favourite suburb is Leederville, where he hangs out in having coffee and cake in Green and Co, and watching the world go by.
An Unexpected Transition
I must admit that when I began creative writing five months ago, I got off to a rather rocky beginning. I sat at my desk enthusiastically, a copy of ‘How To Write a Novel’ which I’d loaned from the library at my side, a plethora of web browsers open with all sorts of tips on how to write creatively, a brand new stylo, and the ergonomics of my surroundings modified to a tee. But I wasn’t able to come up with a single idea. Nothing.
As time went on, I realised that creativity has no schedule.
Creativity is the world’s rudest dinner guest: sometimes it arrives late; sometimes not at all. On other occasions, it shows up completely uninvited and refuses to leave.
So how to handle such a guest?
My creativity comes in sporadic bursts, and thus how I record it must occur in a similar fashion. I’ve ditched the desk and I’ve began writing ‘on the go’. Of late, my strategy is to leave the house with $5 and a fully charged phone, and simply just wander around. After a while, creative thoughts swoop down like magpies and drop silver nuggets in my hands. I pause and record them in draft emails, or scribble them down quickly on a jotter because our minds are fluid, a sea of tossing ideas, and we cannot hold onto any one idea for very long before it gets swept away.
I remember my best night of writing in 2016 was when I was walking home from a movie in Northbridge. The walk, which usually takes twenty minutes took me an hour and a half. Only one hundred metres up the road I stopped and began emptying my mind into an email. I walked only a few yards more before I had to stop and type again. Anyone watching would have thought I looked like an insistently indecisive pedestrian: pausing under street lights, momentarily sitting on benches, getting up again, pacing a few feet before leaning against a building, even missing green pedestrian lights.
This trend steadily continued, and now I find myself writing on the bus, or in the queue at the post office. I even wrote a rather boozy email in the smoking room of a nightclub just last weekend, although the spelling was so atrocious I was unable to decipher its meaning on Sunday morning. But, hey, it felt good to get the writing out, to empty my head onto the page.
When I haven’t written in a few days a strange sense of guilt sets in. I get a sticky feeling as though I need to stretch. The thoughts make me top-heavy like one of those Russian dolls that flips on its head.
Sometimes, however, I do not have anything available to record my thoughts on. This happened recently in Bali while I was diving, and while sixty foot under the sea I lay on my back and watched my air bubbles rise. Creative thoughts surrounded me like strange pulsating sea creatures, and knowing I wouldn’t be able to remember them all, I recited the best bits over and over until we surfaced, barely taking in my surroundings. It was like waking and trying to remember a dream, and all I could recall was:
Splitting and multiplying,
My liquid crystal jellyfish.
These experiences led me to conclude that the writing desk is the antithesis of inspiration, and thus sitting at it will never do. In fact, contrary to popular belief, creativity originates outside oneself, a product of our reaction to external stimuli, and thus, without a conducive environment, creativity will not come.
Of late, I’ve come to see myself less as a creative writer, and more as a sort of strange journalist, recording what my surroundings decide to reveal to me.
I’m very content with my fast accumulating jumbled pile of creative writing, but what I struggle with is trying to untangle my ‘mind-flows’ into coherent, structured stories. In an effort to counter this, I’ve begun to experiment with different writing genres in an effort to compartmentalise my thoughts.
One avenue I’ve starting exploring is review writing, and I signed up to review shows at the Perth Fringe Festival, which proved beneficial in several ways. Firstly, as the reviews are due on the night of the show, I simply can’t procrastinate—there’s no time for it. Because that’s all procrastination is, a false assumption that you’ve more time than you actually have.
The second benefit of this is that I’ve started building a sort of portfolio, which in a sense ‘justifies’ my writing, and alleviates my uninvited qualms of ‘writer worthiness’, that awful sensation where you feel your work is rubbish and best just to use your drafts as origami paper. The question ‘so have you written anything?’ can be countered with ‘Ya, what’s your email and I’ll link you some of my reviews’. Thirdly, doing reviews is a great way to sharpen your critical skills, and helps you re-examine your own writing in a more impartial, objective way. And finally, seeing original performances introduces you to new ideas and concepts.
Later, a friend heard I was doing reviews and approached me to ask if I could read over his draft travel blog article. Now I’ve never edited/critiqued an article in my life, and a part of me felt disingenuous doing it because I’m not an editor. Wrong. Everybody who can hold a pen is an editor, a reviewer, a poet, a journalist, a comedian, a writer. I think my feeling of being under-qualified is a bad hangover of being briefly in the professional world, where everyone needs a title, be it ‘marketing consultant’, or ‘data analyst’.
Another, more-terrifying-yet-exhilarating creative outlet I’ve begun is slam poetry, which is basically free-verse poetry performed in front of an audience. It allows me to forget about grammar and other such barriers to creativity. I try to transform certain sections of my creative writing into poems, and by presenting it to an audience, I get to observe what’s working and what isn’t. As I have to perform the poem, it develops my skills in using tone, facial expressions etc. My writing literally comes to life, with me acting as the vessel. So, if you’re doing a dialogue in your writing, act and read it out, you’ll be amazed at the constructive edits you’ll come up with.
My final current project is an attempt at doing satirical news, Pretzel News—News With a Satirical Twist. I’ll be honest, some people find it funny, others don’t. But over the last few months, I’ve grown to the point that it doesn’t bother me if something isn’t a hit. By inverting what doesn’t work, I’m on track to figuring out what does.
So do remember, each of us is a literary octopus holding a biro at the end of each tentacle, exploring in all directions. And if the stories don’t come to you, well, you’ll just have to go out and get them.
P.S. If anyone is looking to buy a writing desk, do holler, because I shan’t be found sitting at mine.
If you’d like to write a piece for Writers in the Attic, you can contact me here.
I’m now booked until May, so you have plenty of time to write a piece! I love reading them and would be honoured to post your story, 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.