Working with Words: Adam Curley
Adam Curley is a writer and musician. His work has been published in the Lifted Brow, Sleepers Almanac, the Big Issue, Mess + Noise, Kill Your Darlings and more. He's also a singer and lyricist with Melbourne post-punk band Gold Class. Adam spoke with us about lyrics, learning from observation and letting things go.
What was the first piece of writing you had published?
Aside from some fairly painful poetry that was published in high school yearbooks, my first published thing was a piece of travel memoir I wrote when I was 18 after a year of being a very shy fly-on-the-wall bartender at a London pub. The pub was inhabited by day-drinking musicians, some very famous – but most struggling or really depressed. I sent it to a street press paper in Brisbane and the editor made me the paper’s ongoing travel writer. That lasted until we both realised I had very little interest in travel writing: about three editions.
What’s the best part of your job?
Just playing shows with the band, which has nothing to do with writing, really. We’re playing a lot of shows and so most of my energy is going into that, as opposed to writing. But at the moment I feel good about the foundation I built for myself lyrically with our first album. In any form of writing, that moment of feeling as though I’ve put the mess in my head down on a page in some kind of successful order is more rewarding than anything else.
Some people aren’t satisfied until you’ve given them a literal interpretation of a song, line by line, and that can be frustrating and embarrassing.
What’s the worst part of your job?
Probably having to explain lyrics. Some people aren’t satisfied until you’ve given them a literal interpretation of a song, line by line, and that can be frustrating and embarrassing. It’s nice that people care enough to ask, though.
What’s been the most significant moment in your writing career so far?
The support I’ve received from other writers and musicians and editors; people who don’t have much time to give and often don’t get paid for what they do, but will engage with you because they care about writing and community.
What’s the best (or worst) advice you’ve received about writing?
Less advice and more learning by observation: to get an idea down, work hard on it, push it out into the world and move on. I’ve learned, or tried to learn, from people around me not to be too precious about one idea or one piece of writing – because it’s inevitably only part of your greater body of work, which you should be growing and developing continuously. Do the work, of course, and make it the best you can, but then let it go.
What’s the most surprising thing you’ve ever heard or read about yourself?
When you play a show, people will come up to you straight after and give you a really blunt appraisal, and often the appraisal is of you as a person, not even of the show. It can be confronting, but it’s also good to learn that everyone has an opinion and a point of view, and that’s even more reason to write and do whatever you want or need to write and do.
If you weren’t writing, what do you think you’d be doing instead?
I wish it were possible to only write and play in the band, but I also need to work to pay rent – so that’s what I do instead, quite often.
There’s much debate on whether creative writing can be taught – what’s your view?
Don’t waste time writing café reviews for blogs that don’t pay ... That kind of work only breeds more of that kind of work.
I studied graduate creative writing at Melbourne University because there were areas of my writing I was struggling with – structure was one, in the essays and short fiction I was writing at the time – and it was incredibly helpful to dedicate a set period of time to working on those problems. It didn’t teach me rules; it taught me to look at my writing in different ways, and to self-educate better. I think when we talk about teaching, we often talk about people laying down ground rules or step-by-step guides, and that’s not what good teaching does.
What’s your advice for someone wanting to be a writer?
I’m not sure I’m in a position to give advice, but I’d say don’t waste time writing café reviews for blogs that don’t pay. If you aren’t getting paid, you might as well be writing what you want to write. And there’s no good end point to those jobs. That kind of work only breeds more of that kind of work.
Do you buy your books online, in a physical bookshop, or both?
If you could go out to dinner with any fictional character, who would it be and why?
All the characters from Xavier Dolan’s films. If it isn’t going to be real, it might as well be attractive.
What’s the book that’s had the most significant impact on your life or work – and why?
It changes, I guess, and often it’s what my friends have written, something that shows you a new way of thinking about a place or time or group of people you feel connected to. I think that’s the stuff I actually carry with me, stuff that comes from people who are in my life.