Show Your Working is a regular column exploring how some of our favourite writers get things done. This month, we take a peek into the writing routine of former senator turned author Scott Ludlam, whose new book Full Circle: A Search for the World that Comes Next is out now from Black Inc.
First published at Kill your Darlings
What does your workspace look like?
It looks like a little shed in a forest on Yuin country, far south coast of New South Wales. My attention span can sometimes be pretty trash and I’m easily distracted, so having somewhere a bit out of the way to just concentrate has been an absolute gift. But the workspace—it’s a shed, with a jumble of tools and books and memories in it, and I love it.
Are you an analog or digital writer?
Both, I discovered. When I’m travelling I keep a paper journal, and if I’m really stuck I find it easier to write pen to paper, even if it’s just documenting the frustration of being stuck. Writing for public speaking almost always seems easier to do on paper, for reasons that aren’t clear to me; or for problem solving if I’m trying to work something out. But nearly all of the long-form drafting is digital. The bulk of the work done on a laptop if I’m on the road, or forced to evacuate because the coal industry has set fire to the whole eastern seaboard, or a desktop computer in the shed when I’m at home. For most of 2019 and parts of 2020 we had a big calendar grid drawn in whiteboard marker on the kitchen windows; every time I got a new essay to first draft I’d stick a post-it note with the name of the essay on that day. Over the months it really helped get a sense of the ebb and flow of the work, and also how utterly delusional I was about how long things would take.
We had a big calendar grid drawn in whiteboard marker on the kitchen windows; every time I got a new essay to first draft I’d stick a post-it note with the name of the essay on that day.
What sort of software and hardware do you use to get work done?
Early in the process I decided to give Scrivener a try, mainly because it looked like it would help a lost person, who didn’t really know what he was doing, to get organised. And now I recommend it to everyone who asks. Full Circle has a lot of braided strands and stories and arcs and when I started, I had no idea where anything fitted. So I found it very helpful for this non-linear style of writing, where I could move the pieces around into a different configuration and slowly make a mosaic.
The only problem with it was in the copy-edit phase; Scrivener doesn’t really handle messy tracked changes and multiple editors, and so we fell back on Word for that last stage, and I guess the less said about that the better.
Describe your writing practice?
I’m still not sure if I have anything you could call a writing practice. This was my first go at writing something long-form, so I really struggled at first to settle into any kind of routine. I’d written essays before so I started with that practice: write an essay over a period of one to three days, alternating between writing and researching and interview transcribing, even if I have no idea where the piece fits into the final work or if it even does. I find I’m way better at this in the morning, fresh, with coffee, than later in the day. The exception to this is in a crunch: on deadline, with people tapping their watches at me, I’ll press through a day with three or four sessions for as long as I can stay awake; grab a couple of hours’ sleep and then press on again.
Full Circle has a lot of braided strands and stories and arcs and when I started, I had no idea where anything fitted.
Has your writing practice changed over the years? If so, how?
Only in the sense that switching from speeches or short essays of between one and five thousand words to something of book length was a completely different kind of challenge. I am profoundly in awe of people who pull off big pieces of writing while juggling family commitments or stressful work—I had the benefit of this quiet little sanctuary where I could actually hear myself think, with the additional gift of my dear housemate and a small handful of friends and patient editors who would help out when I was lost.
How do you encourage inspiration to strike?
That’s the hardest thing, because sometimes the setup can be perfect and you have hours clear and hot coffee and the dog’s been walked and…nothing. So the three things that come to mind for inspiration are—first—go for another walk. Even a short time away from the keyboard helps unlimber things sometimes. Second—I interviewed more than 100 amazing people in the course of the research; listening back to those recordings sometimes got me out of my head and brought ideas back into view. Third—you have to just show up. Some of it is just the miserable application of brute force: write complete shit if you have to. Write about how hard it is to write today and why that might be. Write trash that you know isn’t good enough, but write.
Some of it is just the miserable application of brute force: write complete shit if you have to. Write trash that you know isn’t good enough, but write.
Oh. And bin your phone. Smartphones are murder for concentration and inspiration. Frequently I’d park my phone in literally a different building just so I’m not reaching for it every fifteen seconds.