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a week at varuna

This short introduces a new treatment for the crop of videos I’ve been cultivating over the last couple of years. Lately I’ve been feeling the need to create a seperate place to indulge my video fettish free of the literary stuff. So with no better ideas, I created a new blog: One hundred cups of coffee

The premise is pretty simple; a video blog to document my attempts to be more creative, more often through one hundred coffees in one hundred different places – each a catalyst for doing, creating and experiencing something new.

100cupscoffee.com is a place for me to hone my video skills while keeping focused on the prime objective: creativity. So if you’re into video (not that kind of video), take a look, and let me know what you think (over there, not here).

And while I have you, here’s 9 things (I couldn’t find the 10th) I learnt about myself while writing at Varuna.

1. Every first draft feels just as hard as the last.

My first draft of the story I worked on at Varuna sounded absolutely terrible; it took three complete re-writes for the ‘truth’ or purpose of the story to become clear. I could not have written the same story first time. From here on I’m going to take comfort that hating the first draft of anything I write is normal.

2. Listening to music helps me write.

I listened to the soundtrack to The Road and The Assassination of Jesse James almost exlcusively while writing at Varuna. It kept me focused and in a certain “mood” – which I think helped develop the piece thematically. Even amongst total silence, listening to music helps me to zone out of the real world and keep me focused on the task at hand.

3. It is possible to do two creative things at once.

In my case writing and videography. But there is a fine balance. In order to get anything done at Varuna I had to set aside time for just writing, and time just for the camera. Timelapses are good for this as you have to leave your camera alone for extended periods of time. Also, it is difficult to clear your head with a camera in your hand. Going for a walk with a camera meant I was constantly searching for a picture to take, rather than zoning out. Writing is all about achieving appropriate levels of ‘zone’.

4. Talking through a story helps.

Talking to other writers or readers about a story helps me to think about what I could be doing with a story, whilst getting line by line edits doesn’t necessarily help me at the early stages. In fact, if things aren’t past the third or fourth draft, there is no point showing it to anyone as I’ll probably change it all anyway. Talking helps though.

5. It doesn’t matter which program you write in.

Unfortunately, the process of writing does not get any easier or harder by switching to a new word processor. Though Scrivener is quite clever.

6. Go to the end before turning around.

Even if my ending totally blows, it’s still better for me to race to the end as by getting there I usually discover how things should actually start. Without at least touching the end, it is difficult to gauge the dimensions of your work, without knowing the dimensions of something it is difficult to see it whole.

7. There’s a difference between teaching a writer and developing a writer.

Both have their place. A writer does not always need to be told what to do, he/she often just needs to be guided, conversed with, encouraged, supported. If one hits a dead end in their work, a teacher would give them tips on how to fix the dead end. But a mentor would show them the space on the book shelf where the writer can find their own answers.

8. I can be disciplined and sit down to write, and enjoy it, for more than 2 hours.

For more that 4 hours in fact. This does not happen necessarily for the first draft, but each successive draft promises more and more. Even with a full time job, writing is possible. Get through the first draft by working day to day, committing time to write, then set aside a day on the weekend to refine the draft.

9. Imitating others can help you find your style.

When I have a story idea in rough draft form I’ll often refine it against the structure of another piece I have enjoyed. I find that while in the early stages I mimic the style and even the content closely, each successive draft feels more like my own. You might think this is cheating, but what do you think genre fiction is all about?

***

Thanks to the teams at Text Publishing and Griffith Review for providing me the chance to stay at Varuna. And thanks also to the Varuna Team for making my stay so comfortable. Hope to be back soon for another round.

34 Comments

  • Hi Mark – I couldn’t find where to comment over at 100 Cups of Coffee! But I wanted you to know how absolutely beautiful your video is. I have been to Varuna more times than I can count and you have perfectly captured the solitude, slow thinking, quiet companionship and beauty of the place and the house. Congratulations – and I know the whole Varuna team is thrilled with it. And thank you so much for making it; I got a bit teary the second time I watched it – and for others, you really need to watch it more than once to see just how intricate and thoughtful it is. Thanks Mark.

    Charlotte

    • Charlotte Wood
    • August 26, 2010
    • Thanks for the kind comments Charlotte. I’m so glad that I had the chance to stay at Varuna, and hope that the video goes some way to capturing the experience. If only videos didn’t take so long to edit, I should really be getting back to the next draft!

      • Mark
      • August 26, 2010
  • Love your video and the 9 things you learnt on retreat. I’m also a writer who’s learnt by doing rather than by being taught – it’s taken me nearly three years to write my first novel; many drafts, first person, then third person. It’s only now, facing down draft six, that I feel it’s approaching novel form.

    Off to Google to bookmark your blog. Glad I found it!

    • Charlotte
    • August 26, 2010
    • Thanks Charlotte. Glad you enjoyed the vid. Drafting is the worst and best part of writing for me. It all seems so hopeless until the 3rd or fourth draft – I just wish I could trust in the process a little more.

      • Mark
      • August 26, 2010
  • My, my, word gets around pretty fast in the blogosphere… two familiar Charlottes above, one of whom told me about this gorgeous video (that would be Wood). It’s just lovely for those of us who’ve been to Varuna, and no doubt a lush siren song for those writers still dreaming that such a place exists. The best thing is, it does. Thanks, Mark – and welcome to the eastern seaboard.

    • DoctorDi
    • August 26, 2010
    • Hi Di, I’m so glad that you enjoyed the vid. I had such a productive week at Varuna that I wanted to try and capture the feeling of being there. So it’s great to hear that I was somewhat successful. Now all I have to do is finish my fellowship application before Tuesday so I can go back!

      • Mark
      • August 26, 2010
  • I sincerely love it, not least because in your enthusiasm for Varuna, you’ve succeeded in doing the place a fine service. I am always so productive there too – I think it’s in the walls and whispers of writers past. Anyway, enough distracting chatter – back to the fellowship application, young man!

    • DoctorDi
    • August 27, 2010
  • Mark, this is great.
    More than happy to collaborate if/when you’re interested.

    And indeed…Varuna looks great.

    • Paul
    • September 2, 2010
  • What are you doing in MY room!
    I loved your video Mark. You’ve captured the essence of Varuna beautifully. Thankyou. Annemarie

    • annemarie laurence
    • September 7, 2010
  • Hey thanks Paul and Anne Marie. Paul – would love to collaborate at some point. I don’t have any formal training, but I’m full up on zeal (and equipment!).

    Anne Marie – you’re the third person this week to confirm that we’ve slept in the same bed! I think it’s a case of you can’t step in the same river twice?

    • Mark
    • September 7, 2010
  • Hey Mark

    Tesa sent me to look at this vid and it is beautiful work. You might enjoy some nice camera tests that a filmmaker did at Skywalker Ranch, George Lucas’s place. Here’s the link: http://vimeo.com/8100091

    Will spread the word for others to come look. I found it very inspiring. Captures the solitude and beauty of writing without distraction, when you crawl into that pocket and you stay in it for days, weeks, months.

    Bravo.

    T.

    • Tristan Bancks
    • September 8, 2010
  • Hi Tristan, thanks for the link. Phllip Bloom’s vids inspired me to get back into videography a few years ago. What a job! Swanning around the world making videos in exotic locations…

    And thanks for watching the video, I had hoped that it went some way to exploring the writing life in a visual form (which is actually quite hard!).

    • Mark
    • September 9, 2010
  • Hi Mark, lovely lovely!

    I was there in May 2009, expecting it to be freezinger than it was in Canberra, took a fur blanket, bought a rainproof padded coat, thermal undies and sat every day in the big bow window of the Ladder Room in the equivalent of my shirtsleeves basking in the warm sunshine! Thanks to two other colleagues, we had a huge roaring fire every night. What a lovely reminder this video is. Watching it, I could almost smell the old books.

    • Maryanne Khan
    • September 9, 2010
  • So lovely, Mark. Thankyou.

    • Cate
    • September 9, 2010
  • Mark I loved it. Thank you. Connected me to so many good memories, all the lovely people I’ve met at Varuna, the walks, the food, the chopping wood. And I loved what you had to say in the blog too.

    • Julie Gittus
    • September 9, 2010
  • Thanks Mark. I enjoyed your micro and macro views, capturing not only Varuna the structure but also the activities writers experience while they are living there. And your shots of the place at night–how lovely.

    • Marsha
    • September 10, 2010
  • Oh, cool, I love this… Thank you Mark. A little teary watching it the second time too. I’m gonna sit my kids down to watch it tonight so they can see why I need to go back to Varuna SOON!

    • Rebekah Clarkson
    • September 10, 2010
  • Hey Mark, I was just recommending your blog to a friend and discovered the Varuna short. Fantastic! It’s so evocative of the whole experience there.

    Though I know you’ll love Melbourne, I must admit that I’m kind of sad to hear you’ve left Perth. We need more of your sort of intelligence here in the boom boom state. Do come back when you find one day you’ve visited one too many good bookshops and you need a bit more blue sky!

    • Julienne van Loon
    • September 10, 2010
  • Thanks Julienne. Yep I made the move to Melbourne (dust still settling) but my home will always be Perth so I’m sure I’ll be back.

    • Mark
    • September 13, 2010
  • I’ve come over all Varunaish just watching this. Thanks so much.

    • Toni Jordan
    • September 30, 2010
  • Hi Mark – what a brilliant vid – thank you. I think you’ve really caught the essence of Varuna – it’s a very unique and special place for writers, and it’s where I seem to work at full capacity.

    I’m from WA originally, although a thousand years ago, and your scarves and gloves made me smile – I can imagine how cold it must have felt to you coming from the warm dry of the west coast.

    Hi Julienne too – hope you’re back in the writing world soon.

    cheers – Glen Guest

    • Glenda Guest
    • October 17, 2010
  • Hi Glenda, thanks for stopping by. I’m the same re: Varuna. I feel like I was a different writer when I stayed – a much more disciplined and productive one. And yes, it was quite chilly, not at all easy to prepare for coming from WA.

    • Mark
    • October 17, 2010
  • Hello Mark
    Just read your terrific story in the latest Griffith Review, and then watched your beautiful video. So good to see what you are doing. I hope you’re loving Melbourne and finding lots of opportunities to develop your writing and live a different sort of life. We miss you at Curtin – maybe you’ll come back for a bit more torture one day. Take care, Liz

    • Liz Byrski
    • October 26, 2010
  • Hi Mark,

    Thanks for such a moving video. I just found out today I have a week to spend in this special place for the very first time. And I have dreamed about staying there so it was nice to have a little taste of what is to come.
    Best of luck with your writing, Anne

    • Anne Myers
    • March 30, 2011
    • Hi Anne, thanks for stopping by. Totally jealous. I’m hoping to go back to Varuna some time this year. I’m sure you’ll find it as nourishing as I did.

      • Mark
      • March 30, 2011
  • I’ve seen your film before but have come back for the memories. i must be missing the yellow house.

    • Susanna Freymark
    • May 9, 2011
    • Thanks Susanna, I’m glad you liked it. I just watched it again myself, brings back fond memories…it has almost been a year now. Really need to get back to that yellow house and those beautiful mountains.

      • Mark Welker
      • May 9, 2011
  • Thanks Mark,
    for that truely creative vision. It’s an inspiration . . to sign up to go. No doubt your vid will be used at the next Katoomba Writer’s Festival!
    Maybe your 10th lesson could be something about all the cups of, seemingly, tea you drank while writing.
    : )
    Helen

    • Helen McNab
    • August 10, 2011
    • Hi Helen, thanks for stopping by. Glad you liked the video. This week makes it a year exactly since I stayed at Varuna and I’m really pining to get back. I think my 10th lesson might be something to do with a return visit every year…

      • Mark Welker
      • August 10, 2011
  • Ah, Mark, you have me dreaming. Thanks.

    • SC Patton
    • August 31, 2011
  • Hi Mark,
    Had just sent the other half off to buy chocolate, after opening another manuscript rejection, when my aimless keyboard dreaming found me at the Varuna site yet again. Thanks for putting that amazing piece out there for people to share. My spirits are lifted once more.

    • Nadine Evans
    • November 15, 2011
    • Hi Nadine. Glad you enjoyed it. Varuna is indeed a beautiful place. Thanks for stopping by.

      • Mark
      • November 16, 2011
  • I love the video and the music (Golden Brown) was just perfect. I’m hoping to spend a week in heaven (Varuna) this year. Realistically I know it won’t make the agony of writing any more intense but I have very high hopes it will enhance the ecstasy! Just being around other writers rather than pursuing my addiction in isolation ought to help! Thanks for the images and the inspiration.

    • Wendy Waters
    • October 18, 2012
    • Hi Wendy, sorry about the slow reply. Thanks for stopping by and for enjoying the video. Varuna has a special place in many a writer’s heart.

      • Mark
      • October 23, 2012
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