Disclaimer: this is a meandering post and it’s really quite self-absorbed. You have been warned.
Last night on twitter I saw someone write: A writer is someone who has agreed to do homework every night for the rest of their lives.
This stuck with me, because it does seem as if I am constantly ‘doing that homework’ but this is not a bad thing, for me it’s the most pleasant activity, it makes me happy and frankly, it has to be done, I can’t not do it. I am a nicer daughter, friend, mother, wife and citizen when I’m writing. I am nicer to people in shops and banks, I smile more, I feel better about myself and life. I am happy in the supermarket and I am happy driving my car. I’m afraid I’m not nicer to telemarketers and people who call my phone to sell or discuss something I’m not interested in.
So as I do my ‘homework’, which on days like today are all day as well as all night, I feel structured, productive and thrilled to the core to be creating my things. As a mother with a small child — years ago, I’m talking — there was absolutely no space for ‘proper writing’. I could only take notes, I could only occasionally have scattered ideas. I clipped news articles, I watched a lot of TV and movies, during those evenings when my daughter slept. And during the days, when I wasn’t doing a little bit of scratched-together paid work, I’d lie on the floor and make block cities, or cook with her, and take her to the park. Endlessly. There was no room for my ‘homework’ and that was fine, more than fine. Back then, it wasn’t in my orbit really, I hadn’t gotten any momentum. The first shot of sparks came in 1999 when I did short-story writing as part of the RMIT Prof Writing & Editing course. Then in 2000 I wrote a short-story that got published in RMIT’s anthology. I was living overseas, and I wrote 60,000 words as an extension of that short-story which has now seeded into my second novel manuscript. But those 60K words sat for years. I didn’t finish the course at RMIT – life got in the way, I didn’t have a babysitter when I needed one, my mum got sick, so I put it all to the side and carried on.
In 2005, I started blogging and it was this that connected me, or re-connected me, to writing. I used to keep diaries from when I was 17 to when I had my daughter, so 32’ish. Then that stopped too, so blogging became my outlet and place of record for my life and thoughts and reactions.
In 2007 I was trying to write my fiction, had buddied up with a friend who told me about a course called The Year of the Novel, and that in this course, the idea was that you would produce, by the end of the year, a completed manuscript or first draft of a book. A real one, a whole one. For anyone who’s dabbled with fiction, you’d know that you can lose stamina and heart, anywhere between the first chapter and the fifth. There are a lot of uncompleted novels in the world. There are a lot of completed first drafts in the world. That year, 2009, I wrote my first draft of the novel which I have now with an agent who will pitch to publishers on my behalf and try to sell it. So that’s four full years of work from go to woah and it’s not even properly, completely at woah yet, in many ways it’s just the beginning. Meanwhile I will work on my second, and keep thinking about and collecting ideas and making notes about the other projects I have in mind.
These days I still watch a lot of DVDs but instead of lying on the floor with my daughter, playing with toys, I’m on the couch next to her, taking her through the ‘best movies of my life’ (and some of the worst) and we are discovering new tv series together. She is sixteen and stepping out into her own world, and I am released in a way to pursue my thing. And my thing, I decided most decisively (even though I already knew it, since I was a kid but as I grew up, didn’t know how to do it) is writing fiction.
I’m working hard at attaining my 10,000 hours of competency, I am obsessed. I will sit at my desk all day and most of the night. It’s not all writing fresh new words, there is a lot of distraction and the internet is a huge one. But my obsession is how it has to be, I have no choice in this. I know that if I didn’t write, if I don’t write, I’d go cray-cray. I realise now that when I wasn’t writing, I was a bit cray-cray and so it’s as much a mental wellness strategy as anything else, to write. I’m lucky to do something I love as there are so many people who aren’t.
As a mother, sometimes you are torn but I can now say that mostly, my writing comes first but in a way that is good for my family because now that they are older, while they like to have me around the house, be here when they get home from school, in the kitchen pottering or doing the washing or making them meals, they are independent in many ways and it’s better for them not to have an over-involved mother in their faces all the time. So we are all happy and I am released to do my thing.
I feel really really lucky to be right here, right now.