Saturday 4 April
I’m so disappointed in my writing for the last two workshops; but I am comforting myself in the fact that I am still writing lots for my folio.
This fucking lockdown is making us all a bit crazy. It’s exhausting, and as a person who lives in their head, the last thing I needed was more time in my head, but here I am, living in my head for god knows how long. I haven’t read the last story in Tenth of December, the titular story. I want to start reading The Interpreter of Maladies but I’m procrastinating. I installed Scrivener, to see if I like it, even though I’m writing short stories, and it seems better for novels. Writing is happening slowly.
Wednesday 8 April
Just had an awesome reading session with Tina [Makereti], Emily [Perkins] and James [Brown]. I feel like a lot of it clicks with concerns I’m having, and it was very encouraging. Tina talked about writing towards something that doesn’t make sense, zooming in on the images (which relates back to Gigi [Fenster]’s comment about focusing on specifics). She said the essay form is imperfect, impossible. Writing towards truth but knowing you’ll never get there – and the key question is why does this matter. She writes for herself, i.e., the reader that is interested in the same things she is. This is comforting.
James talked about linking abstract things to concrete things, in metaphor. Emily talked about beginnings, as a space for getting the voice going, that the voice is more important than knowing what the piece is about. She talked about taking risks, being comfortable with not knowing, trusting yourself. As part of her reading packet she also gave us a piece “On Risk and Investment” (Routledge) which spoke about how audiences won’t be invested unless you are: about taking risks.
Emily also said she likes to write about things that no longer exist; lost worlds for the narrator. The key emphasis came back to Tina’s point – where you are invested, it has to matter. She emphasised not-knowing, and how that is more interesting than knowing.
Saturday 11 April
An Easter like no other. Logan made hot cross buns and sourdough, and we played Scrabble, but no friends or family. Isolation.
I listened to two stories on podcasts, one called “The Promise” by Tony Birch on the ABC Radio National Fictions podcast and one by Sally Rooney (note to self: look up the name) [later: it was “Colour and Light” on the Writer’s Voice podcast].
I’ve nearly finished The Interpreter of Maladies.
Sunday 12 April
I am discovering that short stories are more vast than you can imagine in what they do. They can go anywhere. I listened to Zadie Smith’s story “Now More Than Ever” on my run today, and I feel like right now the surreal feels realer than anything. Surrealism is the only thing that makes sense right now, because overnight everything we understood about the world changed.
Wednesday 22 April
It has been ten days since I wrote in here! We are on break at the moment, but there is still so much to do. Last week I wrote lots, but then I stalled towards the end of the week. This week I have written a little. I met with Anna [Taylor] last Wednesday and she really helped clarify what I’m trying to do with my story “Women,” which I am now calling “Colleagues.”
My workmate Jordan Hamel has started up an online journal with Sinead Overbye reflecting art in lockdown, and it is brilliant. I’m supposed to only read short stories but god damn this poem they published is incredible: “Nemesis Mine” by Rebecca Hawkes.
I also feel like a naughty child because despite the fact that this course requires me to read (what a luxury) I’ve strayed from my big stack of short story collections and bought the e-book of Elizabeth Knox’s The Absolute Book which I am dying to read. So I’m procrastinating by reading that instead.
This morning I’ve opened Lydia Davis’s book Almost No Memory and am realising it is full of SHORT short stories! Which is exciting. Now I’m thinking that my reading packet might look at what is a short story because my own stories tend to be around the 2000-word mark, but “Colleagues” is at 6000, and a few of the one-page exercises we’ve done for class also feel almost complete.
I also have to think of something to bring to reading class for next week. At the moment I’m leaning towards an extract from Zadie Smith’s On Beauty (which I’ve stopped reading in exchange for short story collections). It’s a chapter that shifts around close third-person POV and I’m interested to discuss that. I think in my own writing I tend to hang around in people’s heads, in first or very close third person, so I’m interested in looking at a zoomed-out approach.
Logan is making lots of bread, and everyone in the whole country seems to be making lots of bread, but I’m just reading random shit online. Two writers have written essays that reflect on this bread-making state.
Becky Manawatu: A dumb, stupid woman having a dumb, stupid rant
“I write more now, heaps more rubbish. Heaps and heaps of utter embarrassing crap. Such lovely bullshit, just like this piece. A rant. All I do is rant, now. I’m reading parts of books and parts of books. Nothing I can claim as a grand feat. Just pieces. Bits. Poems. No intelligent titles to get through, to tick off.”
Anna Jackson: On Baking
“Social media under lockdown is full of posts about the baking we are doing, and full of posts of the writing we can’t bring ourselves to write. It isn’t completely surprising that writers in lockdown find themselves unable to write, we are almost always unable to write, not being able to write is almost a condition of being a writer, except that unless we sometimes succeed in writing despite being unable to write we are not likely to think of ourselves as writers, only as wanting to write.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Grace Tong grew up on the Kāpiti Coast, and now lives in Te Whanganui a Tara and works as a lawyer in the public sector. Grace writes increasingly short stories that swivel between the everyday and the futuristic.