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Working with Words: Lucy Adams

Read Monday, 25 Jul 2016

Lucy Adams is the editor of youth literary journal Voiceworks. Here, she shares why she believes you shouldn’t edit your own work while you’re writing and how if you’re working into the night on a deadline, eating an orange every 45 minutes could be your saving grace.

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What was the first piece of writing you had published?

In Year Five, I wrote an editorial on asylum seeker policy for Roving Reporters, a program where a bunch of kids were tasked with making a newspaper. I landed the role of editor because nobody wanted to do it or knew what it was. My editorial was perhaps out of place in a publication largely concerned with sports carnival issues, but it did receive a positive public response. This reception however, was a red flag: since I grew up in a conservative, blue-ribbon community, my peers took my biting political satire on why we ought be ‘wary’ of asylum seekers at face value, and, if anything, it confirmed their long-held (read: problematic) beliefs. Satire, it turns out, can be too straight-faced.

‘Getting to tell a young writer who doesn’t yet know they’re great, that they are in fact great, is magic stuff.’

What’s the best part of your job?

Voiceworks is the first site of publication for many young writers, and often their first encounter with the editing process. Getting to tell a young writer who doesn’t yet know they’re great, that they are in fact great, is magic stuff. Better yet are the opportunities I get to help them develop their work to a point where they’re genuinely proud of and excited by it. Then there’s the editorial committee – the beautiful gang of weirdos I always wanted growing up. I take choosing biccies for them very seriously.

What’s the worst part of your job?

My problem is my own design – the inability to stop thinking about it. If I let it (which I do), thinking about work is a sponge that takes up all available brain space. This whole work–life balance racket is a tricky business, especially when the boundary between ‘work’ and ‘life’ is blurry and you care a big whole bunch about what you do.

What’s been the most significant moment in your writing career so far?

I certainly don’t have a writing career, but words-wise, seeing the first issue of Voiceworks under my editorship to print was pretty wild. It was like giving birth to a mutant made by 50 people, only with minimal placenta splatter, but comparable levels of wailing. 

What’s the best (or worst) advice you’ve received about writing?

Don’t try to edit and write at the same time. At times I find being an editor spooks my writing. If left unchecked, my beefed-up editor brain cuts off all thoughts before they make it to the page, so I’ll occasionally need to shush her up and let the dross flow freely and unfiltered. Another great piece of advice came from Amy Gray: ‘Please have a shower and go to sleep’.

What’s the most surprising thing you’ve ever heard or read about yourself?

A former boss used to call me ‘Creeping Jesus’ behind my back, and I still haven’t the foggiest idea what that means.

If you weren’t editing Voiceworks, what do you think you’d be doing instead?

My first job out of school was in neuroscience – as the apprentice to an eccentric neuroanatomy professor – and I was tempted to make a career out of it, and I might’ve done had I not been compelled by Perth, to leave Perth. Bizarro Lucy is off mapping rat brains somewhere and I’m waiting for our timelines to converge.

‘I think writing is learned – writers don’t just hatch, tiny and tortured out of genius eggs – but there’s no one set way of learning how.’

There’s much debate on whether creative writing can be taught ­– what’s your view?

I think writing is learned – writers don’t just hatch, tiny and tortured out of genius eggs – but there’s no one set way of learning how. Creative writing courses are helpful for some: they can help develop aspects of craft, or provide an incentive to work and permission to dedicate time to writing, and they might even serve up some cool pals – but there’s no replacement for just doing the thing and doing it a lot.

What’s your advice for someone wanting to be a writer?

Don’t let the fear of judgement or rejection paralyse you to the point where you do nothing at all. Try not to get bogged down in what other writers posit as the ideal approach to writing practice. Chances are, unless you’re mashing an octopus into the keyboard, you’re not doing it completely wrong. Although, cephalopods are highly intelligent so it would likely amount to some decent poetry.

Another thing, when writing into the night to meet a deadline – eat an orange every 45 minutes.

‘… when writing into the night to meet a deadline – eat an orange every 45 minutes’

Do you buy your books online, in a physical bookshop, or both?

In bookshops. I’m terrible at the internet and will do almost anything to lurk in dark corners, smelling paper.

If you could go out to dinner with any fictional character, who would it be and why?

Shelob from Lord of the Rings or Aragog from Harry Potter. The joyous feasting/bonding experience would break down my fear of spiders and allow me to become stronger than ever before.

What’s the book that’s had the most significant impact on your life or work – and why?

While on a family beach holiday, I read Alanna: The First Adventure by Tamora Pierce. It’s about a girl who cuts off her hair and trades places with her twin brother to pursue her dream of becoming a knight. While the other kids raced off to splash in the ocean, I refused to leave my room, opting instead to fight Spidren in Tortall with my purple-eyed cat. This book legitimised my insistence on wearing the ‘boys’’ school uniform and instilled in me a kind of proto-feminism that deeply informed my worldview.

The following year, I spent my holiday writing a highly derivative fantasy novella that would go on to be published by my Year Six teacher. It garnered moderate reviews.

If you’d like to get your hands on a copy of Voiceworks, you can subscribe here. Voiceworks is accepting submissions for issue #106 ‘Motive’. If you’re a writer or artist under the age of 25, submit here.

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The Wheeler Centre acknowledges the Wurundjeri Woi Wurrung people of the Kulin Nation as the traditional owners of the land on which we work. We pay our respects to the people of the Kulin Nation and all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Elders, past and present.