I Started with This!

Double spread open blank pages in a journal with a pen above viewed from above on a wooden desk, with copy space

Through a series of strange and wonderful events (including, but not limited to, a quarter-life crisis and a global pandemic; neither of which fell into the latter category), I find myself working part-time and not studying this year. So I find myself having this odd thing called free time. And not in the sense that I had free-time in between semesters; that was my recuperating time where I did all the nothing I never had a chance to do during semester. A lot of Netflix gets watched and books get read in my recuperating time.

No. When I say “free time”, I mean that I now have the chance to explore hobbies. And not just baking (though I am getting a lot more opportunities to do that!). I’m finally doing two things I haven’t had the mental capacity to do for a long time: re-learning Italian (Ciao a tutti!) and writing.

If you have followed my blog for a long time (which, if you’re still subscribed after all these years of nothing, I sincerely thank you), you might remember my posting a few pieces of my writing from time to time. Unfortunately, when I began studying psychology, I lost all my creative drive. Any time I looked at a blank Word document, I had anxiety flashbacks of essays and literature reviews and studies and reports that I had had to reference and style in the merciless APA formatting. My brain refused to co-operate and allow me to write anything for fun.

But now my brain has some breathing room and it is ready to start being creative again.

This post has two parts. The first is just a few resources I used to start strengthening my writing muscles again. The second, which I will post separately to spare you, is the very first piece of writing I did with my newfound creativity. It is nowhere near the level of my writing a few years ago, when writing was almost a habit, but it was a start.

During my second last semester at university, I undertook a “Genre Fiction” elective, taught by someone who used to work at the Queensland Writers Centre. That gentleman gave such helpful feedback and tips that I thought the QWC would be the best place to start. So I had a look at some of their online courses. It was there that I found the “Kickstart Your Writing” course. This was just something to reconnect some of the neurons that allow me to get into the writing zone in the first place. The exercises aren’t too time consuming and they really do help. Especially one that has helped me really shape a novel idea I’ve had for a really long time, but couldn’t pull together into anything cohesive. Just a warning: the course does cost $19AUD. If you can afford it, I definitely do recommend this course.

The next thing that has helped me to start writing again is a monthly competition hosted by the Australian Writers’ Centre called “Furious Fiction”. A friend of mine actually asked me to help edit her entry for the March competition of this, which is how I found out about it in the first place. Essentially, Furious Fiction spans across the first weekend of each month. It starts on the Friday evening and runs until 11:59pm of the following Sunday. Only 55 hours and 500 words. With prompts. And the potential to win $500AUD.
This was a brilliant discovery. Not only are you given ideas to write about, but also no time to second guess yourself. You write, you edit a few times, you submit. Done, dusted. I’ve now submitted three times to this competition. I’m yet to be long OR short listed, but this is totally not the point. I treat this competition as a writing exercise and it really, truly helps. For anyone interested who might not be an Aussie, this competition is open internationally. I think an American won a few months ago! Plus, free to enter!

Another competition, held by the Queensland Writers Centre, is called “Right Left Write”. This competition is a little more involved. In order to receive the prompt each month, you need to be subscribed to the QWC e-newsletter “Pen & Pixel”. This might feel like a trap, but it’s actually wonderful. The newsletter is filled with tips, other competitions, and the achievements of members. I really enjoy receiving this newsletter each week.
Right Left Write is also a monthly competition, and the word count is also 500 words. But you get the whole month to come up with a story. It’s a little more high stakes (no prize money, I mean quality wise) as you have more time to hone your piece, but it is wonderful. The prompts are quite short and are either a theme or a word/phrase that needs to be incorporated into the story. This is another that I have completed over the past few months. Again, I have not yet been long or short listed, but I adore the ability to practice coming up with new ideas. I can get so stuck in my head about this one idea that I need to finish, that I don’t allow myself to just write. And that can be dangerous. Constant writing is needed to find your voice and strengthen your prose. Having these competitions has truly helped. Another PSA: this competition costs $5AUD to enter if you are not a member of the QWC.

Finally, another vital resource has been the Night Vale presents podcast “Start With This”. The tagline of this podcast says it all: Unsure where to begin? Start with this. This podcast is hosted by the creators of the hilariously horrific Welcome to Night Vale, Jeffrey Cranor and Joseph Fink. “Start With This” is aimed at podcasters, but the exercises help anyone wanting to work creatively. At the end of each episode, Joseph and Jeffrey give you homework: something to consume (creatively) and something to actually do. The very first one? Just write for an hour, either in a concentrated session of split up into shorter sessions over the course of a week. And then post whatever it is you’ve written.

All of these things have helped me to get back into writing, something I have loved doing since I was about nine years old, when I wrote, illustrated, and published (read: stapled together and covered in clear contact) my very first novel. It feels so good to be doing this again. So good, that I wanted to share these resources with anyone who feels they might need them.


About Bec Graham

Bec Graham, 24, was born on the wrong continent. Everything from her burns-like-paper skin tone to her inability to cope with the slightest hint of a hot day suggests she should have been born under the gloomy skies and mild sun of the UK. She hopes writing will get her to her rightful home one day. Failing that, she scans the skies for a spinning blue police box, hoping to catch a lift back to the motherland.
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