You reach a signpost, “this way for the rest of your life,” and you know it’s the direction you must take.
It is a deep conviction, in the marrow of bone. And it’s more than the fact that writing gives you words to speak, or a place to belong, or in story you find what you lost. And you make meaning of the crazy around you and a way forward opens. It’s as if you uncover the missing gene. The writing chromosome inside the DNA that you’ve spent years blindfolded, in the wild with a microscope, searching for. Then when you touch it, feel it swell, there’s a sting. It dawns on you, what you’ve tapped into is innate. There all along.
A friend asked me a while ago, how I will sustain this writing I have embarked on and not go back to the lure and grind of the sensible. To working full-time, familiarity, and money. I knew then as I know now—I’ve come too far from the sensible. I’ve established the routine of daily writing and discovered an inner voice of belief, “this is what you’re really here for, now go.”
I wrote a piece recently, The Chops for Writing, in which I described the process of becoming, committing myself to writing, giving myself permission. That was step one.
Compelled now to the page, because the journey is on-going, and a drive to keep drawing out what’s inside. It now goes further than permission. It’s sustaining the motivation, the practices I’ve established and putting my writing out to others. Finding an audience, and then managing the fallout and my disappointment, or spinning a dance.
As I’ve mapped and marked my journey, I’ve read authors who’ve suggested strategies and tools for improving words, developing sentences, and growing ideas. I’ve diligently followed, and it hasn’t been easy. I’ve faced my anxieties, blocks, and delaying tactics at the desk. At times, when the writing flow starts, it can be scary to keep up and stay put in the chair. To align myself with the energy that swoops in, hold tight, and have faith in the process. Often, I want to run. I have no idea where I’m going, afraid I won’t sustain the magic. The page begins to blur, there’s a thought fuzz, and an urge to flee. But, as I read others who know this too, I sit still, take a deep breath, wait, let it come. And invariably, it does. In stillness, I’m learning to stay, not stray.
Other authors, familiar with the labour and triumphs of a prolific writing life, and a successful story (or ten), have been echo-chambers, as they detail their inner writing psyche and show their toil and joy through words. Describing the ways they trip, and the tips on how to hold and carry the story. There is encouragement and resonance in some of what they say. It’s also comforting to know that even greats like Stephen King have to press restart with each project, each new book.
But something is missing from the shelves where I seek inspiration. It is someone who speaks to me from the context of my stage of development. It is the voice of the unknown writer, the beginner. Someone still in the adolescence of their writing years, scribbling it out on their Learner’s pen. Still working on stringing words into clear, rhythmic sentences. Still needing to google the difference in use between breath and breathe or passed and past, effect and affect. Still comprehending the basics.
Another message absent from many writing books, is that there’s more than one way to write story. Stories are written and told through a myriad of forms. Some take to poetry, creative non-fiction, memoir, essays, reflections, blogging, journals and much more. But it is as if the only true story is the fictional novel. Held up as the ultimate writing goal. The gold star.
In the exploratory, and tentative paragraphs of the fledgling writer, this goal can be disheartening. The critic inside picks up on the dismay, taunting “you could never write a novel, forget it”. Similarly, it seems, the published book, the pinnacle of success, is the hallmark, “at last you’ve made it.” Surely, there are other publication platforms worthy of applaud.
And the more I read, the more I see how prolific some writers are. It demonstrates, perhaps, the drive, and compulsion. The calling to write that I have recently discovered, if only in its infancy. Heaven forbid though, the expectation following a best-seller. No doubt, it makes some give up. Salinger, Plath, Margaret Mitchell, Anna Sewell, Emily Brontë, (and countless others), all stopped at publishing one memorable best-seller. Was the pressure of a second just too much? Was it, bow out while you’re on a winner? Did they go back to the sensible? Did they retreat from the anxiety and pressure of sustaining the magic? What happened?
So why would I attempt to aim so high, go their first, necessarily? Not just to the novel, but then for it to become a best-seller. Granted, some can, and do. Voila, it’s the Miles Franklin, or the Booker, first time out. I dream, but “not likely,” my critic chides. In the meantime, it’s the “start small girl, and besides, it’s probably where everyone began,” goal that I chase. But why are there so many writing process books that preference the “how to” for the fictional novel ? Please, a written companion that helps me and others like me, start at an earlier base on the field, an earlier stage in our writing lives.
People In My Corner
A colleague, slightly interested in my move to writing, once asked what I was working on. When I sent him links to sites where my stories, articles and blogs had been posted, he said, “Great, but let me know when you get published, won’t you”? Needless to say, I won’t be looking to him for encouragement any time soon.
Finding the right people, those who are in your village, your corner, to nurture you in the early years of writing is essential to a learning writer’s development. Insensitive, unqualified feedback or commentary without merit or qualification, can be a deflating set-back. So not just any one will do, and the circumstance in which their commentary is requested, offered, and then received, is equally important.
One must be clear about what feedback is being sought, and it must be taken in with gratitude (irrespective of whether I agree with it or not).
Through trial and a lot of error, I am learning who to go to, for what feedback, and who to avoid and why. As I work out who to talk to about my writing dreams, and when to keep them in the quiet, near my heart.
As I learn the charm and heartache of creating words on the page, I need guidance. I need to understand what in the writing is working, ideas about what could be improved, correct use of grammar, syntax, and sentence construction. How to review and edit and much, much more that I don’t even know about, yet. But I do know I need encouragement to stretch, permission to play with words, add humour, go somewhere new, and be daring and adventurous with my writing. Even when I am scared. And I need the feedback and ideas, delivered with genuine desire to help grow my skill and confidence, as a writer. All offered without the unfulfilled projections or hidden agendas of someone stifling their own creative desires. Or threatened by what and where I am aiming to reach, daring to dream, aspiring to write.
In the days before I had given myself permission to write, a new trusted writing buddy and I had a series of coaching sessions with an experienced writer, during the lockdown months of COVID-19. Through the initial sessions we established the parameters of what we wanted from the process. This helped set the format of the hour, gave structure to our learning goals, and how they might be achieved, for each session and the long term. The coach was respectful, sensitive, and open, and her feedback reflected that. With a sharp and respectful eye, she skilfully reviewed our cautious offerings. Her comments on our work, were offered as humble opinions, for which she said, we should be discerning. Taste, savour and wait for what resonates, rather than swallow.
She backed her review with questions that sought to widen our stories, draw out detail and insert intrigue. To enrich the work and the experience for the reader. She looked at what was working, created discussion points, and edges where we could extend the ideas. She gave us examples of other writers work as springboards for inspiration and growth, rather than a “this is how to do it better” commentary. While I felt protective of the few pieces I submitted, I learned about grammar, form, and story development as a result of her feedback. Unfortunately, I bowed out of the process earlier than I anticipated. But through the period we were coached by her, I realised that if I was serious about writing, I needed to set up a writing routine. At the point where I finished off the coaching, I wasn’t ready to commit. I put my pen in the back in the drawer, then life happened. Eventually, I found my way back.
So, the question is who to reach for, what is needed? Last year, I went looking for my own folk, those I could share my growing pains with. I put it out there in our local community-based social media forums seeking like-minded, spirited and enthusiastic developing writers. There were hopeful beginnings that failed to grow legs. Not once, but several times. Disappointed, I slunk indoors, and subjected my husband to countless readings. Boring him silly with rewrites of rewrites or new and unfinished pieces. As attentive as he tried to be, what I write just isn’t his jam, his go-to read. The buzz and interest wasn’t there in the story I was trying to create, and fair enough. He supports what I’m trying to do, he’s just not into what I am trying to write.
However, for some, a close partner is the chosen and trusted first reader of their manuscripts. Stephen King and the late Alfred Hitchcock, relying on the sharp eye and wise counsel and critique of their wives. What is disaster for some, a source of truth for others.
So, I ventured back out and plastered Facebook with my scribbles, musings and a few pieces that were comprehensible. Some of it, my friends and family (bless them) made generous commentary on. My sister, who became the leader of my cheer squad, gave (and still gives), me unconditional praise and backing. As sisters can and do, over the recent months of my writing journey, she’s become my ally, my stalwart. An avid reader, and story teller in her own right – through spoken word – she appreciates the effort, and pain it can take to get verse on the page. She is one of my trusted ones.
Charlotte Wood speaks to the value of procuring the friendship and sustenance of a close few. Those who are willing to open their own pages and equally interested in yours. People who want to go and grow with you. Fellow writers, who know the tussle and ecstasy of finding the perfect words, the relief of light bulb moments, the desperation when you hit the impasse or blank wall. Confidants, who with time and trust, get you, barrack for you. Who know the dark and despair of “you really should go back to your old job, you just can’t write”, but say instead to you “ you’ve got something, don’t give up”.
In The Luminous Solution, Wood reminds us of the importance of encouragement, and that “all writers, need praise” (and she includes herself). Irrespective of talent, years at the page, or books to their name, writers need positive acknowledgement of the skill, and talent that shines through their stories. Thank you, Charlotte, you are right from my perspective, because when we are still finding our terra firma, we need regular doses of, “that bit works, keep going with it, well done”.
So, back out I went, stepping forward in search of my people. As luck, or the universe would have it, I found a new small group of buddies, within a bigger group – our local regional writing club. Early writers, like me, who were also ready to go. We’re in our early days, learning to trust and support the possibilities of our potential. All buoyed by our common ground and interested in our difference.
Writing is a solitary and sometimes lonely pursuit. Of necessity, I spend hours, every day, by myself, captive to the story I am trying to create. At the mercy of my jumbled cognitions, and in occasional receipt of something more mystical, I bang away at the keyboard until I fill the empty page. My writing routine interspersed by other practices that stimulate my brain and help get the juices flowing. I walk a lot, and like many who do too, and know – I reap the spiritual and physical rewards of one foot in front of the other, in the outdoors. And when I need the recharge of human interaction, the support and trusted critique for my writing, I connect with the people in my corner.