2024 Stella Prize Longlist: Reflections
Hayley Singer Abandon Every Hope

Things I cannot write without

Hayley Singer, longlisted for the 2024 Stella Prize for the collection of essays Abandon Every Hope: Essays for the Dead, meditates on the things she cannot – will not– write without.

Writing without is so so important to talk about. I cannot write without reading, without walking, and I cannot write without addressing what feels ethically urgent to me.

Like so many writers, I’ve learnt to work in the absence of things – time, space, income. What emerging writer doesn’t know, hasn’t felt, this? I’m not cheering this kind of writing life. Not in a thousand years. For a long time, I felt solid with the fact that I could write anywhere, on almost anything (notebook, phone, computer, napkin, forearm). I even felt proud of it. Now I am distressed by the ways deficit has been mythologised, romanticised, as foundational to great writing.

Being without, being in deficit, might create a context in which a writer produces raw, stripped-to-the-bone, nerve-shredded, skinless work. And this shredded work might be truly great. But how long can a person support this? To write as if my skin has been peeled off, I need life support from some deep place. So I add life support in a very broad sense (beyond time, space, income) to the list of things I cannot (will not?) write without.

When I treat my writing as a practice, I find I can sustain a project through to publication.

Abandon Every Hope

When I treat my writing as a practice, I find I can sustain a project through to publication. Writing as practice is totally overwhelming in how daily it is. It’s hard to squish practice in between all the other things because it isn’t about being smart or talented, and for the longest time it’s not about making a finished or saleable artefact. Writing practice allows me to transform layers of thought, research and experience into multi-dimensional, multi-sensory fragments of life, death, on the page.

I practice writing by collecting fragments of research, thought, speech, quotation and putting them into a notebook. That notebook is used to build a scene that might be used to build a fragment or essay, which might make its way into a longer piece of work… or it might not. I try to practice documenting what remains felt but unsaid in conversations. Right now, I am paying attention to what is strategically omitted from certain archives… So, to my list I add: notebooks, gleaning, attention to what has been/is being swept off the cultural scene.

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