Scary, scary thing to say. You aren't supposed to to say that. Unless you are J.K. Rowling. For the rest of us, saying that just feels scary and forbidden.
But there is something about the magic of Varuna that lets all those insecurities and hang ups melt away. For the last week I have been blessed with uninterrupted space to be a writer.
Nestled in Bear Room of Varuna Writers' House with my monastic single bed and large desk overlooking the splendour of the gardens, I have reached a state of creative euphoria. Something actually physiological has happened in which my whole body has felt completely overcome by the bliss and blessing of being part of the Varuna tradition. This feeling can only really be understood by the four fabulous women I have had the good fortune to share this creative experience with, and by the countless writers whose names fill the Varuna guest book. It is a legacy of over two decades, and actually a legacy of several generations if you include the extraordinary Dark family whose benevolence gifted this beautiful space to writers.
Enjoying evening meals prepared by Sheila the Magnificent, an absolute gem as integral to the Varuna experience as the place itself, we have enjoyed meals awash with wine and words. The shared experience of frustrations, creative blocks, a-ha moments, and little and large wins, makes for a support group like no other. It is such a luxury to have a collection of writers to chat to about their process, and my process, and not feel embarrassed about using words like "process" to describe what would otherwise be a very solitary experience.
Before coming to Varuna I had lost the momentum of my novel. While I was studying creative writing I had been on a roll. I had surprised myself with my results, and had attracted the attention of a literary agent and a publisher. Most importantly, I was part of a community of fellow writers to keep me believing that this alchemy of manuscript creation was possible.
And then the momentum stopped.
I reached that point where I was tired of people asking how the novel was going because, apart from a few paragraphs here and there, it had hardly moved for at least two years. Occasionally I would get fired up and write a few pages, and I had certainly used the time to do research and to finish the dissertation for my Masters, but the novel just hadn't moved. There were several reasons for this. Life got in the way of course... work deadlines, a broken heart, a dissertation to finish, moving house, all stressful but not unmanageable. The biggest block was: 1) Fear; and 2) I'd forgotten what I'd written.
The fear wasn't obvious to me, it just manifested as a reluctance to look at anything I had already written. I am emotionally invested in my story and I feel the weight of responsibility to do the subject matter justice. But the fear that prevented me from rereading also meant that there was a mental fog around what I had written and what I had imagined I had written.
I had idealistic plans to finish a very rough first draft at Varuna. I didn't. And I am so happy.
With uninterrupted, distraction-free reading time I spent days reading through my higgledy-piggledy manuscript, relearning what my novel was about. Most days I was completely overwhelmed by the majesty and magic of Varuna. Crab apple blossoms would float past my window, carried by the breeze, and the days were gloriously sunny. Then there was the ick moment. I was suddenly hit with complete and utter confusion. I'd written so much, some of which was completely contrary to other things I'd written, tenses and personal pronouns were confused, and some scenes I just didn't like at all but didn't have the cojones (polite way of saying balls) to delete. Then the magic of Varuna kicked in. Visited by the Varuna mentoring legend that is Peter Bishop, our little group of scribblers discussed the editing process and the importance of asking yourself: "Why did I write this?"
I went back to basics. I deleted things. I physically cut things up. I stuck things together. I reordered things. I did research. I made mind maps. And I created a beautiful collection of coloured post-it notes that outline the path I want my novel to take. I know which scenes I need to write now, I know which scenes need editing, I've given myself so much more work to do, and I am so happy with what I have achieved.
I'm not scared of my writing now. I'm not scared of calling myself a writer, either. I am a little scared that once I leave Varuna that I will leave the magic behind. Fortunately I have a garish poster of post-its to guide the rest of my creative journey.
I've learnt so much from my writing peers (Anne, Kate, Lucinda and Sally) who have shared this experience with me. As I leave Varuna for the real world, I will "resist re-entry" as Kate so eloquently phrased it, and try to bring Varuna with me, reminding myself, as Lucinda put it, that the writing comes first.
I will be forever grateful for the Varuna experience.
Writers at Work at Varuna House
Entry to Varuna House
Gorgeous Varuna gardens
Thinking time in the garden
My messy writing desk
Looking wistfully at wisteria. Yes, I am wearing a furry hat. Because: 1) sometimes props help me get into the mind of the character. 2) it was cold.
My magic post-it note poster for plot planning and general chaos sorting.