Writer’s Advice – Gemma Killen

There are still two weeks to apply for one of our coveted 2017 Writing Residencies! To help you finish your application, and give you a glimpse into the program, we’re profiling some of our 2016 writers-in-residence. First up, Gemma Killen.  Gemma is a PhD Candidate in Gender Studies at the Australian National University. Her current work focuses on the ways in which queer women’s identities become embodied and are made meaningful in online spaces. In 2015, Gemma moved to Canberra from Adelaide where she wrote for the Adelaide University magazine OnDit. She was also published in Wet Ink, an Australian magazine for emergent creative writing. As a writer, Gemma wants to produce gender-focused work that is accessible and creative.

Why did you decide to apply for the 2016 residency program?

I have a folder on my computer called ‘unfinished stories’ that is full of half-baked ideas and well, unfinished stories. I had just begun doing my PhD and was finding it difficult to dedicate any time to non-thesis writing but still, the stories kept coming and swirling about in my head. The residency offered an opportunity to devote my time and energy to finishing some of my stories – and beginning new ones! The chance to get paid to develop my writing skills and to work closely with an editor on each piece is rare and seemed too good to pass up.

I had also been skulking around the edges of the Canberra literary scene since I moved here and wanted a way in, a way to rub elbows with all the clever people I had seen writing, performing, reading their work. The residency offered me that.

Did you always know you wanted to write? When did you start taking it seriously as a possible future career?

When I was little and adults asked what I wanted to do when I grew up, I would always give some typical little girl answer like, be a dancer, or be a teacher, or present the news on television. My mum would always laugh and say – no, you’re going to be a writer! Her inability to understand my news reading potential would annoy me no end and I would spend hours locked in my room writing in my diary about how she didn’t understand me. At school I would write endless stories about children whose parents didn’t really understand what they were all about. It took me a while to clue into the fact that I spent most of my waking hours writing things or making up stories.

Honestly, I didn’t think of writing as a serious career possibility until I was doing the residency. I had published a couple of things previously but only once for money and I just figured that getting paid to write wasn’t really an option for me, that my writing wasn’t that good. In one of the residency workshops, we had a session with a publisher and I thought I want to write a book and then I thought, I CAN write a book, and I was so surprised. During the residency, I met some great professional writers and it dawned on me that they weren’t mythical or magical creatures – they just put in the time and worked hard to carve out careers.

Getting paid for my writing didn’t hurt either. Nor did the feeling when strangers told me they knew and loved my work.

What’s the thing about writing that get’s you the most excited to open a new word doc?

Having a story to tell and thinking of a great way to tell it. Beginning a new story always feels deliciously self-indulgent, like I get to swim around in my own brain for awhile. Sometimes I don’t actually know what I think about a given topic till I start writing about it so it can be an exercise in self-knowledge. I also get really excited thinking about getting the story out there and imagining people reading it and empathising.

What’s the piece from the residency program you’re most proud of and why?

On Finding Femme is my favourite piece. It is a piece of memoir about sexuality and gender and it was surprisingly easy to write. Each section tumbled out of my fingertips and felt authentic and straight to the point. It became the piece that I am most proud of because I had so many great responses to it – someone told me she’d cried while reading it and once a stranger came up to me while I was out at dinner to tell me she’d seen me read it at a Feminartsy Story-share and had loved it. It felt amazing to know that my writing had connected with people so deeply.

What are your 2017 writing goals?

In no particular order:

  1. To keep writing regularly!

  2. To be a bit more brave and submit my writing to all sorts of places (I am especially keen to submit something to Archer magazine at the moment).

  3. To write a big chunk of my thesis.

  4. To plan out a possible book.

  5. To maintain the momentum I gained during my time at Feminartsy and make a name for myself as a professional writer.

So you know, nothing too big…

Any advice you would offer someone considering applying for a residency?

Do it! It doesn’t matter whether you consider yourself to be a professional writer or if you’re worried that your writing isn’t polished enough. The residency is designed to help you refine your style and find your writing voice. The team at Feminartsy are supportive and professional and can help you achieve your writing goals. If nothing else, you get dedicated attention from an editor and you get paid to write regularly – a writer’s dream!

You can find out all about applying for a 2017 Feminartsy Writing Residency here. Application are open until March 31!

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