Meet Katelin Farnsworth. Katelin studied the Bachelor of Arts, majoring in professional and creative writing, to chase her dream of storytelling. In 2020, her manuscript Found Again was shortlisted for the Penguin Literary Prize, in an incredibly affirming nod towards her abilities and her future in the industry.
We spoke to Katelin about her creative ambitions, working on her manuscript alongside her studies, and how Deakin (alongside a few others) have helped her develop the confidence and skills to pursue a career as a professional author.
Tell us about your Bachelor of Arts degree. What are the key things you feel you’ve learnt from it?
My degree was in Professional and Creative Writing and I followed the recommended course structure for it. I was most interested in the fiction subjects as that’s where my passion lies, particularly character and literary writing. I truly loved my fiction classes and was surprised by the way they seemed to encompass so much more than simply writing. These classes taught me about myself, my place in the world, the way I understand the people in my life – so much! I used to joke that it was like going to therapy as we unpacked so much in these classes.
I think storytelling is a way of making sense of the world and examining the issues around us, and these classes gave me a lot to think about and consider in terms of my own life, as well the world outside myself and what I know to be true. I was surprised by the way I learned to think critically through stories and poetry, and how my world view kept opening up. I was also surprised (in a good way) by how the classes confronted and disturbed my notions of identity and once strongly held beliefs. I loved the way I was pushed to look at things through a new lens and to re-examine my own prejudices and biases.
What additional minors did you pick, and how did these complement your interest in writing?
I loved the Creative aspect of my degree and was reluctant at first to take any unrequired professional minors. A fellow student and friend gently pushed me in the direction of journalism and feature writing, and so I thought I’d give it a go. I was completely gobsmacked by how much I enjoyed the feature writing unit.
Writing professionally is a different ball game to writing fiction and while at first I was apprehensive, I soon realised there was a lot to gain from it. I realised the importance of learning to write in different fields and in different ways. It gave me insight into possible career paths and it was a chance to experiment and play with different forms of writing.
Creative work can be quite demanding when you’re studying full-time! How did you manage developing your manuscript, Found Again, alongside your studies?
I started writing Found Again in my second year. I write quite quickly and wrote around my uni course, using parts of the fiction assignments to think about my characters and the story I was trying to tell. There were lots of exercises that we did in class that helped me to think about plot, pacing and characterisation too. I also workshopped parts of the manuscript in classes and found this an incredibly valuable tool, although I was careful not to workshop too much of the ‘raw’ writing as sometimes feedback too soon isn’t always helpful. Sometimes early feedback can stop you in your tracks and make you doubt your work!
This was something we discussed in class too, as well as the idea that writing is all about redrafting and takes time to get right. I remember one of my teachers telling me not to rush, to go slowly, to sit and think and ponder and dream. This was a really important lesson for me as I have a tendency to apply far too much pressure to myself and want to get everything done straight away. But it’s okay to go slowly. It’s okay to let ideas percolate. Sometimes you need to stop writing in order to write. Writing is also a lonely business and can feel very isolating at times. Knowing that I was surrounded by people who share the same passion and understand what it’s like to write really helped me work on Found Again. Deakin was such a supportive, nourishing environment to write and create in!
What were your biggest fears or concerns, working on your manuscript – and how did you overcome them?
Writing, for me at least, is always fraught with a little bit of fear. I worry that my writing won’t be good enough or that I am wasting my time trying to tell a story that has already been told a thousand times. Rejection is scary and it hurts putting your work out there to be declined. But these concerns don’t come to me while I’m writing. The act of writing is something I love. I love being swept up in the story and listening to my characters, being surprised and shocked by what they decide to do. It’s only after I’ve written and closed down the computer or notebook that the fears start to creep in. I’ve learned to accept that the fears are there and that maybe they won’t ever fully go away. But just because they’re there, it doesn’t mean I have to listen to them. I choose to accept that the fears are part of my writing process and that all I can do is concentrate on telling the story the best I can.
The classes I was part of helped me realise that all writers share similar doubts and anxieties and that I’m not alone. I really felt like I was a part of a community at Deakin – a truly special thing to feel. I’m so grateful that I was able to meet so many amazing writers, – I’ve made lifelong friends and connections that I will always cherish.
Where are you hoping to take your manuscript now?
Found Again was shortlisted for the Penguin Literary Prize 2020. This was a huge boost to my confidence and I was absolutely shocked by this shortlisting.
I started rewriting it (for the millionth time) last year after the shortlisting and after I had some interest from publishers. While I received some lovely feedback on my writing, I couldn’t quite get it over the line. I knew that I needed to undergo a substantial structural rewrite but was a bit stuck on how to go about this, so I applied for a mentorship earlier this year with the Australian Society of Authors to help me with these rewrites. I was lucky enough to be successful in my application (another big shock!) and am currently undertaking this mentorship now.
I am (currently) hoping to find a home for my manuscript after the mentorship. After being disillusioned and a bit over the constant redrafting, I’m actually really enjoying the rewrites and trying to put less pressure on myself. My mentor said the most important thing is that I fall back in love with my story – and I really feel that this is beginning to happen for me. It’s an incredibly long road and there are no guarantees of publication at the end of it but this story matters to me and I want to tell it as best as I can. I know that with or without publication, I will always keep writing. I don’t think I could ever stop.