10 November 2015
Advice from our 2015 Scribe Prize Shortlist
There’s no denying that nonfiction is a powerful written form. But for these six young writers, their nonfiction work was incredible enough to make the 2015 Shortlist for the Scribe Nonfiction Prize. These very talented individuals sat down to share what it is they love about nonfic, and to share the best and worst advice they have ever received as a young writer.
Congratulations to Emma Marie Jones, Clem Moriscot, Patrick Mullins, Zoya Patel, Drew Rooke and Samantha van Zweden for making the 2015 Scribe Prize short list!
Why do you write nonfiction?
“I don’t like to think about my writing as either “fiction” or “nonfiction”. I like to situate it kind of on the boundary between the two, if there is one. Things are only true if you believe they are, anyway.” — Emma Marie Jones.
“Actually, I always thought I would write fiction, until I studied creative nonfiction. It is so rewarding to learn not only through the research, but also to learn about yourself in how the findings affect you. I hope to write someone else’s story one day; that should be a special experience too. And crafting stories from daily life means finding meaning and connecting people and events; I think we are all after meaning and purpose in our own ways.” — Clem Moriscot.
“I write nonfiction because it’s powerful form. Facts that are lifeless and dull in isolation become electric and interesting when strung together in a non-fictive work.” — Patrick Mullins.
“I never particularly set out to write nonfiction, but as my writing experience and style has evolved, and I’ve started to better define the topics I’m interested in interrogating, nonfiction has become my focus. I think particularly when exploring race and identity, there is great power in telling the ‘true’ stories, and sharing experiences through nonfiction writing.” — Zoya Patel.
“Firstly, I’m shit at fiction. Secondly, I’m fascinated by the world in which we live, a beautiful, emotional, terrifying and often unbelievable one. Writing is my way of trying to better comprehend and decipher at least a snippet of that world and the people within it.” — Drew Rooke.
“I always thought I was a fiction writer, and I tried really hard to make it stick, but I felt that everything I did in fiction was way too contrived. Nonfiction, by contrast, feels much more natural. Nonfiction feels like an extension of myself – an opportunity to tease out stuff I’m thinking about anyway. A dialogue with the world. And the challenge is more about reframing what exists and filtering it through your own world-view and voice, rather than spinning it all from scratch. That’s not to say that it’s not hard work, because it’s the hardest work I’m ever going to do, and it can be truly difficult. But the stakes of nonfiction feel much higher and more immediate to me, which is both exciting and rewarding.” — Samantha Van Zweden.
What the best and worst piece of advice that you’ve received about writing?
“The best piece of advice is the simplest: write, and write every day. Never don’t write. Take notes about everything. Write everything that you see down. Trust me, do it. The worst piece of advice? I think Ernest Hemingway said something like “never think about the story when you’re not working on it”. That’s BS. Think about whatever you want whenever you want. Stop policing my thoughts Ernest and get in the bin.” — Emma Marie Jones.
“The best one: keep it simple. It’s still hard for me to follow, but it comes down to Boileau’s quote ‘ what you understand well, you enunciate clearly’. The practice of writing helps you understand, but you have to be honest with yourself and keep pushing until you get there.” — Clem Moriscot.
“William Giraldi’s reminder that ‘Every book lives and dies by its language’ is the best argument I know for the importance of a writer’s currency. The worst piece of advice I’ve ever received is not to use ‘I’ in an essay.” — Patrick Mullins.
“The best piece of advice is the most obvious piece of advice – ‘write what you know’. Being able to focus my writing energy on the topics that are most relevant and interesting to me has helped me actually produce content, rather than being overwhelmed by how little I know about particular content areas.
I don’t think I’ve ever received any truly bad advice about writing, though I’ve certainly received a lot that isn’t relevant to me. For example, I’m constantly told to plan my work more, and to map out longer projects. That just doesn’t work for me – it’s about finding the techniques that suit your inherent style and process as a writer.” — Zoya Patel.
“I’m struggling to recall any bad advice so I’m going to give two good pieces of advice instead. The first is from my Pop. “If you’re gunna do a job, do it properly.” He didn’t say that about writing, and it may be cliche, but it is something I remember whenever I do write. The second is from a friend, Joel Meares. He said that as writers, we mustn’t get over our heads and think every piece we write is going to be read by thousands and change the world. But, he added, that doesn’t make it any less indispensable, nor should it diminish the urge or passion to write.” — Drew Rooke.
“The best advice consistently comes from my long-time mentor and friend Laurie Steed, who always encourages me to turn and face my truth while writing. While that might sound overly cathartic or woo-woo, it often means writing the things that actually matter to me. Writing the things that are in my vision, rather than writing what I think I should be writing. It also means being present, showing up and doing the work, and honouring whatever that means or requires on any given day – being kind to myself. Fronting up to your emotional truth makes for stronger writing, no matter what form it’s in.
I also always go with one of the favourites of my Honours coordinator, who often told us to ‘Just do the things’ – again, it’s about getting to the desk and staying there and eventually getting some work out. Breaking it down into digestible chunks. Deciding on what ‘the things’ are and then ‘just doing them’ isn’t as daunting as ‘finish the essay,’ or ‘write the book’.
I don’t know if I’ve received any truly terrible advice. There’s been plenty of stuff I’ve chosen not to take on board, but even the pieces of advice that struck me as terrible obviously worked for the person trying to impart their wisdom.” — Samantha Van Zweden.