Show Your Working is a new monthly column exploring how some of our favourite writers get things done. This month, we take a peek at the desk of Jamie Marina Lau, a 2019 Sydney Morning Herald Best Young Australian Novelist whose debut novel Pink Mountain on Locust Island (Brow Books) was shortlisted for the 2019 Stella Prize.
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What does your workspace look like?
I like to change it up between working at home at my desk and going out to write. If I’m working at home I definitely like to embrace having the window open, burning incense or candles having a really open space that’s healthy. If I’m at home I often end up working on music though, so there does tend to be more likelihood I’m distracted. If I’m out writing it’s like study mode. Either way I’ll probably have like over thirty tabs open researching and keeping three or four books I want to focus on being influenced by next to me. I always keep hydrated and have a big jar of water or a bottle next to me though!
Are you an analog or digital writer?
Both analog and digital. I write in ten different notebooks – it’s really messy. When I’m writing on paper I tend to be writing for myself – whether that be interrogating my ideas for a project or if its journaling and taking down personal thoughts. When I’m writing projects I use Word and then keep all my research links and influencing images, music and films/documentaries in a Notes folder. I use the Calendar on my Mac but I wish I could keep a paper diary.
What sort of software and hardware do you use to get your work done?
Using Word is cool, because I like playing with the whole visual aspect of a document – setting margins, playing with line spacing. It all contributes to the voice and the circumstance of the writing. I’m a very visual person – the way I wrote my first book was entering page breaks in and making subheadings. It challenged the way I thought about how we read, how we receive and think about stories and how memory functions.
I like playing with the whole visual aspect of a document – setting margins, playing with line spacing. It all contributes to the voice and the circumstance of the writing.
Describe your writing practice?
I definitely write best if I start early. Recently I’ve been trying to form a writing routine since I’ve finished studying. Having the privilege and stability to maintain a writing routine is another thing. I know my routine will change up as my life switches up but right now I’m really blessed being able to just get up early, travel out or stay in, walking is a huge part, and meditating/praying too. Having a healthy state of mind which is ready to be curious and learn as well as reflect all of that is the most important thing to me.
When I begin writing I’ll usually start by reading, or watching or listening to some material and researching pretty intensely. My whole thing is really scoping into one specific thing very much and forming almost an obsession over it.
Has your writing practice changed over the years? If so, how?
In very subtle ways. I used to be quiet about my writing. Now I’ve been able talk to people about the ideas I’m interested in or the kinds of dynamics that exist in the book, which is really gratifying and widens my perspective. I also used to write as a way to procrastinate so in a way, the whole practice was rooted in escapism. Now that it takes up a significant portion of my time, I treat the writing I do with a lot more weight. It’s cool, lately I’ve been writing at least four days a week for about four hours a day. That’s a lot for me, and it’s quite exhausting, but it’s how I’m writing the book right now.
Having a healthy state of mind which is ready to be curious and learn as well as reflect all of that is the most important thing to me.
Two months ago, with the same book, I couldn’t even sit down to write once a week. The practice will always fluctuate, I guess, according to my mental space and things going on in the world or at home or in my circles. And it’s difficult coming to terms with the inconsistency. But it’s how we live these days, and accepting that is how I think I’m able to write with clarity. I’m learning to be okay with inconsistency, because so much of writing is the negative space you take to live your life, and the things you learn in that time.
How do you encourage inspiration to strike?
Writer’s block for me is when I’m not feeling myself. I write best when I’m my most empathetic and open self and I think that goes for a lot of writers. I would say take a day’s break, see people, go outside, watch a film or read for yourself and not for your writing, and don’t think about writing!
Jamie will be appearing in Writing: A Liminal Art on 2 September, part of this year’s Melbourne Writers Festival.