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Show Your Working is a regular column exploring how some of our favourite writers get things done. This month, we take a peek into the writing routine of Melissa Manning, whose short story collection Smokehouse is out now from UQP. Read a story from the collection on our website!

Melissa Manning sitting at a white desk in a white room, turning to face the camera. Her hair is tied back, she is wearing a loose grey jumper and holding a pair of glasses. On the desk is a laptop connected to an external monitor, a lamp, books and a framed artwork with the words "she believed she could, so she did." On the wall is a large piece of bark and a small black and white photograph of a tree.

Melissa at her workspace. Image: Supplied

What does your workspace look like?

My current workspace is a studio at the Gothic mansion, Glenfern House. With no Wi-Fi, distractions are limited. It has great natural light, a large inbuilt desk, and a bookshelf. There’s plenty of wall space to stick maps, images, my trusty bird calendar, and bits and pieces of bark and leaves that I find on my wanderings. I’ve got a yoga mat tucked in the corner so that I can stretch away time on the computer and clear my head when needed. I love my reading chair, and the beanbag lounger for when I really want to get comfortable with a book.

If the mood is right, I’ll write anywhere, but I prefer to write in a space free of distractions and surrounded by books, art, and objects that inspire me. In the cold weather a heat pack, Ugg boots and a fluffy blanket are must haves.

Before I had the luxury of a dedicated space, I wrote in bed, at cafes, in libraries, at the kitchen table, and in the study at home. I sometimes still write in all of those spaces. I’ve also had the incredible good fortune, over the last few years, to work from spaces at Varuna, The National Writers’ House; Bililla Mansion; and the Wheeler Centre.

Generally, I like to know where things are, though I’m not always good at managing that. It really depends on my mood, and where I’m at in a project. I prefer neat, but I’m able to let go of that if it helps me to get the creative work done in the time available to me.

I’ll write anywhere, but I prefer a space free of distractions and surrounded by books, art, and objects that inspire me.

Are you an analog or digital writer?

I do most of my writing on a laptop, but I recently did the Sarah Sentilles Word Cave workshop and rediscovered the joy of the particular creative flow generated by sitting at a page and writing by hand. When it comes to editing I use my laptop for early drafts. For late drafts, I like to print, read out loud and mark up by hand.

I try to keep my phone and laptop calendars synched, and I’m a big fan of handwritten ‘to do’ lists. If I write it down, my brain feels free of the burden of having to remember and I can let my mind run off and do its own creative thing.

What sort of software and hardware do you use to get your work done?

I use a blend of Scrivener and Microsoft Word. Microsoft Word is good for short works, and for formatting late drafts of longer pieces. Scrivener is my go to for all of my longer projects. Together with that I have pages of handwritten notes, which I try, but usually fail to keep organised.

I love the corkboard function on Scrivener, and the ability to code chapters and sections. It’s incredibly helpful when it comes to structural editing. On the other hand, the rabbit-hole I go down to format work dropped from Scrivener into Word is quite frustrating. I imagine there’s a way around this, though I haven’t managed to find the time to work it out.

Ideally, I’d love a studio surrounded by trees, birdlife, and a stream. A large desk pushed up to a huge window; a day bed for reading and snoozing; lots of blankets; a fire pit somewhere between the studio and the stream. Inside, there’d be a small cooker with a mocha pot and a hand grinder for coffee beans; also a bar fridge for afternoon/evening drinks. Definitely no internet connectivity. I’ve fantasised about this too much, haven’t I?

Describe your writing practice?

I’m definitely an early bird. I’ve never been great at staying up late, and I love that solitary time in the mornings when the day is truly your own.

I need to be somewhat flexible because of work commitments. So when work is really busy, I adjust my writing routine to fit. Pre-COVID this often meant an hour at a cafe with coffee, breakfast and my laptop before starting work at 8am. Now that I work predominantly from home, I start most days with yoga, walking, coffee, and writing. Sometimes I live up to this ideal routine for months on end. Sometimes it falls away for a day or two, or weeks, then I start to get irritable and I need to find a way of slipping back into a regular routine.

I like to start writing and see what happens. There’s little more satisfying than the thrill of a character doing or saying something utterly unexpected, and I live for those moments when a new character walks into the story and it feels like they’ve been waiting in the wings the whole time.

I like to start writing and see what happens. There’s little more satisfying than the thrill of a character doing or saying something utterly unexpected.

I do plan when I’m at structural editing stage. Also, if a story I’m committed to just isn’t working, I’ll plan a different approach, which might be as simple as introducing ‘out of character’ action or dialogue, or changing the setting for a scene. I’ve rewritten entire manuscripts in changed points of view, and tenses.

I rewrite and edit incessantly—while it improves the quality of the work that’s already written, it’s also my worst form of procrastination.

Has your writing practice changed over the years? If so, how?

I’ve only been writing for eleven years, and it took me at least four to find my writing voice. What I’ve learnt is that thinking doesn’t really work for me. When I think too much, it sucks the magic out of the words and they arrive dead on the page. So I’ve come to trust the process that works for me, which is sitting down with a clear mind and writing; for me that’s where the joy lives.

Like every writer I know, life has a habit from time to time of really getting in the way. I used to be afraid that if I left my characters alone for too long we would forget each other. Now I trust that if we’re connected in the way we need to be for a story to have the potential for life, it won’t matter how long we’re apart.

I’m also in a couple of writing workshop groups, and I deeply value working with the talented writers in those groups—to read their drafts, and to receive their critical analysis of mine is a real privilege.

I’ve come to trust the process that works for me, which is sitting down with a clear mind and writing; for me that’s where the joy lives.

How do you encourage inspiration to strike?

I don’t experience writer’s block often. There’s almost always a feeling, a line of dialogue, an image jumping out as a break in point. If not, I work on something I haven’t looked at for a while, and dive back into the tricky work later on. If it really isn’t working, I file it in a folder called ‘Words I Like’, which is my way of letting go without ever really letting go.

I’m always inspired by the power of certain writing exercises to breathe new life into words. Most recently I’ve been reminded of this in The Word Cave workshop with Sarah Sentilles, and also in Sally Piper’s Witnessing Landscapes workshop, which Sally very generously offered free of charge to Melbourne writers during our extended COVID lockdown.

⁠Any advice you’ve found particularly helpful (or unhelpful⁠)?


  • Killing your darlings is imperative. If you don’t kill them, they’ll kill your stories. Allied to that, be circumspect about where you place your jewels. Too many, too close together and you dilute the ability of any one of them to shine.
  • Put away your ‘finished’ manuscript for as long as you can bear—ideally months. Seeing it afterwards with fresh eyes will help you to identify what’s working, but more importantly, what’s not.
  • Write like yourself and if you don’t know what that means, keep writing until you work it out.
  • Keep turning up to the desk.
  • Find the right workshopping group.


  • You must have a routine—it’s a nice idea, but life doesn’t always land that way and there’s no value in beating yourself up about it.
  • You have to write for a particular audience and stick with it—though I can see how this might make the work of marketers easier, I don’t buy into this. I think you should write what works for you.

Smokehouse is available now from your local independent bookseller.