Five points I now know after completing my writing course — that would have made life infinitely easier at the start.
1. There is a naturally progressive order to learning how to write — ignore it at your peril. I scanned the timetable for subjects that would ignite my upward trajectory to the dizzying heights of fame in the least amount of time. Novel writing? Tick. Short stories? Tick. Wrong — so very wrong! Okay, what is the main thing a story has? Hello — a plot! And what does a plot have? A premise, a theme, characters, dialogue, scenes, point of view, grammar and punctuation. I could go on, but I’m breaking out in a sweat just remembering it all. A story is a whole made up of the sum of its essential parts. Get a firm grip on those essentials from the start. Choose your order of subjects with as much care as you would take to edit a selfie!
2. I found it almost impossible to write an assignment unless I was under the pump, deadline looming, when I, having exhausted all other excuses, could quite possibly self-ignite to avoid the chore! What I realised was the fear of failure was stopping me from even beginning. ‘It’ll be crap! Why start?’. And just to compound the issue, my editing voice would take charge as soon as the first sentence was down on paper. ‘Seriously? That’s your opening sentence? Open that Thesaurus stat and let’s spend ten hours looking for a better adjective!’ In the end, I had to work with my deadline addiction and had ideas, notes and research completed for that last minute race to the finish line. Begin as soon as you can — don’t wait for the optimum time, it’s exhausting!
3. Finding my voice. I tend to write the way I talk and initially I felt I wasn’t writing properly. It didn’t seem ‘writerly’ enough — literary enough. I doubted its veracity. ‘I’m just writing down what I’m ‘seeing’ and thinking, how can that be enough?’ Now I know if my voice could be recognised simply through my writing, if no-one knew it was mine, then I’ve nailed it. It has a distinct character, its own personality, as does everyone’s, but if I can find that point of difference, that EDGE that makes it unique, then I have a chance of success. Find your voice, find your power.
4. Like many students of the course, I have the unfinished novel. At the time I thought it was great. I enjoyed writing romantic comedy and found a natural fit with dialogue. Perfect — straight to the big screen adaptation. Rose Byrne and Kristen Wiig, you’re on my list! Four chapters in, I had no idea where it was going, how to write a sub-plot, have more than two characters or avoid the typical RomCom recipe. Fast forward to my first encounter with creative non-fiction. At last! I didn’t have to find ideas, they’re everywhere. Memoir, essay, reviews, blogging, listicles — the list is long. Here I am finding a way to explore my own interests combined with my writing. And what about my penchant for RomCom you ask? Well, I did write about a comedy of romantic errors — my ‘romantic’ trip to America to meet an online love interest!
5. I am proud of finishing the course! Good on me. I don’t have the best track record when it comes to finishing things, so the completion of my diploma says as much about the course as it does about me. I loved the learning, the exploration of themes and ideas that truly interested and excited me. It also went deeper than that. It helped with depression, with structuring a new life in Melbourne, introduced me to a great group of people and I am missing it already.
And from LUCIA NARDO, one of our great writing teachers!
Five things I've learnt about writing in the past 10 years
1. Strengthen my writing muscle
Any muscle is built by repetitive action and the right nutrition. In my writing world, that repetitive action means regular writing, even if I have to do it five minutes at a time. I leave my PC on then come-and-go into the piece I'm working on. Sometimes I'm lucky enough to get a long stretch of time, which is a luxury but not essential to production. Everything is written one word at a time. I don't need to be fast, just steady. My writing nutrition includes reading widely, attending literary festivals and author talks. Mixing with other people interested in books and writing is my best sort of soul food.
2. Be part of a workshopping/writing group
After point 1, a workshopping group is the thing that has improved my writing and confidence the most. At first, it was daunting showing my work to others but I gathered my courage and dropped my defences. I learn most when I allow myself to be vulnerable to feedback. The rhythm and trust didn’t build overnight and there were a few early bumps. These days, I know that my group has the best interests of my work at the core of their comments and a bonus is that my development as a writer flows from this. Their constructive feedback is the thing that propels my writing forward. It would be poorer if not for them.
3. Stay a curious observer
Overheard conversations, interactions, events, news items all sparks story ideas and questions. Curiosity about what is behind these fuels my imagination be it one sentence in a conversation or an observation on a walk. Being an observer means paying more attention to the world around me than focussing on my own. That inquisitiveness has ever left me short of inspiration.
4. Persistence and patience
Being published is a challenge. Where creativity meets commercial reality can be an uncomfortable place. It's easy to become dejected and want to give up. Rejection is never pretty and when it happens, it's hard to remind myself with any conviction that it’s the work, not me personally facing the thanks but no thanks message. Each time I tell myself it's too hard, I take a breather, come back to it, polish the work more and send it out into the world again. If I stop, I will have failed for sure.
5. Remain gracious
When I see "everyone else" around me being published and celebrated, it can erode my confidence. I wonder if I will ever be "good enough". The antidote is to be gracious. Their journey to publication might have been fraught too. There is rarely a true overnight success. I've seen envy drain all the creative energy from some people when it's better spent on continuing to write. I try to learn what I can from successful writers and remind myself that if I work on points 1 to 5, I might find myself in the same place as they do.