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 Yuwaalaraay author and 2018 black&write! fellow Nardi Simpson, whose debut novel Song of the Crocodile is out now from Hachette Australia (Read our review!).
What does your workspace look like?
I am lucky enough to have a large desk at my bedroom window that soaks in the sunlight most of the day. At it, I sit overlooking two thick blue gum trees. I spend a lot of time thinking and daydreaming stories into the tree’s branches. My street is relatively quiet for inner city Sydney and the trains and planes (less so these days) are a gentle interruption to the birdsong and leaf rustle in front of me. My only frustration is, as I accumulate books, my room is quickly running out of space to store it all.
Reflecting back on the early drafting of Song of the Crocodile, I think often sought places with ambient noise, cafes and parks, that sort of thing. Something about the energy of people going about their lives inspired me to get words onto the page. When I was editing, I sought silence and solitude. My mind seemed to be working in a different way, connecting deeply with characters, their inner motivations and my own writing goddesses and ancestors.
I always have some kind of music in the works, whether it’s songwriting or composing for ensembles or vocal pieces, so my workspace changed regularly between the inner and outer pursuits of writing and composing. These mediums tend to work well together, and I don’t find any tension between the two. I find the regular physical shifting of materials and gear on my desk (keyboard’s, mics, notebooks etc. ) means my workspace is continually morphing between lyric and melody. There is a lovely, liquid chaos to my workspace that works well for me.
My desk overlooks two thick blue gum trees; I spend a lot of time thinking and daydreaming stories into the tree’s branches.
Are you an analog or digital writer?
I write everything down in a diary. If I write it, I remember it and I am better at holding myself accountable.
I draft in longhand and edit on computer. Because I try to channel my country and ancestors when writing, I like to leave the door open for spirit when writing and dreaming about cultural things. I reckon they are much more able to guide me directly with a pen in my hand, so my conceptual work is always written in a series of notebooks. When I have to knuckle down into hard work and make tough decisions—editing, structural work, crafting rather than creating the story—I get busy on the computer.
What sort of software and hardware do you use to get your work done?
I had a really great run with Scrivener until I began spending more time formatting and organising my thoughts than I did writing them down. I know this is weird but sometimes I run passages through Grammarly also, not to shape the flow of my words but to see and learn from alternatives. Grammarly showed me the tendencies I had, and the example helped me recognise and decide on the right approach for me to commit to.
I’m pretty adaptable, so no pet peeves on any programs. I did much of my work with editors in Word. I found it was easier to engage with editor’s queries if I changed the colour of their comments on the document to pink rather than red. I quickly learned to love the indirect conversations—through comments asking for deeper thought or clarification, focus or attention on sections—with editors in Word. Their manner of suggesting and never prescribing seemed quite wonderful and generous to me. I now have a soft spot for Word!
What would your perfect work/writing setup look like?
I feel pretty lucky to have the space that I have. It seems to work with my situation and temperament. My desk doubles as a stand-up desk so I’d probably just do more standing work than I do now. And maybe invest in a better chair as my neck gets stiff when I get into long, hard slogs at the computer.
Because I try to channel my country and ancestors when writing, I like to leave the door open for spirit when writing and dreaming about cultural things.
Describe your writing practice?
I need a good sleep, a filling breakfast and a coffee to be at my best. I often find I am working well by 10:30 and with small breaks, like to push through to late afternoon. So I’m not really a night owl or an early bird; I guess I’m a brunch budgie.
I create in intensive blocks. The time I am not writing I spend daydreaming all aspects of the story. I still discover things on the page but when I know I have a story that seems sturdy and I can commit to, I just put my head down and don’t stop till I get to the end. My creative time is incredibly important to me and I don’t let anything get in the way of conceptualising and creating it. When it comes to drafting and editing, I like to allow a bit of the outside world in. I am less intense with my writing time and allow people and things to play a role in the time I spend with the story. The perspective helps me to see all angles.
I like to swim in the creation of the story. I try not to edit or censor what I’m writing, as I am quite critical and competitive (with myself) and know that that can stifle my creativity, so I stay in creation time till I come up for air.
I have a good feeling for the story and elements it needs so it doesn’t worry me if I jump around in the telling. I think approaching writing as I do from an aural and embodied perspective, to a certain extent I can physically feel the parts the narrative needs and I try to make sure it feels like a complete story, even if it needs teasing and coaxing a little.
When I know I have a story that seems sturdy and I can commit to, I just put my head down and don’t stop till I get to the end.
Has your writing practice changed over the years? If so, how?
I’ve only done one book, so apart from the growth in knowledge and process I have experienced as a practitioner, no radical (or small) changes to report yet. But I love the thought that this will grow and change in the future. If it didn’t, I’d be worried.
How do you encourage inspiration to strike?
I try to go for a walk or sing at the top of my lungs to my favourite songs. It’s a great way for me to re-energise and recharge. I am also really lucky to be connected to generations of storytellers in my bloodline. I have faith that I am an important part of their storytelling tradition so I never worry too much that I can’t get through times where inspiration is a little harder to come by.
Walking is wonderful. It is meditative, creative and really energises your mind. Sometimes a walk frees my mind to wander in different directions. That provides a release from the intensity of the story and its focus really helps me reconnect to the world I am creating.
Song of the Crocodile is available now at your local independent bookseller.
Looking to kickstart your own writing practice? Check out our range of online Writers’ Workshops, with a great range of courses designed for writers across all genres and skill levels.