My firstborn son turns 19 this month. Besides his birthday, it marks another significant milestone—the anniversary of my decision to become a writer. Nearly two decades on, I’ve almost come of age.
As a child, I loved to read. I was forever getting into trouble for reading after lights out—crawling to the foot of my bed to catch a glimmer of light from the hallway. Ann of Green Gables, The Billabong series, Jane Eyre and Agatha Christie. My eldest son did the same, but for him, it was Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, Redwall and Fablehaven. I had to hide my smile when I told him to go to sleep.
From the joy of escaping into other worlds and lives, it seemed a natural extension to dream about creating my own characters and journeys. I wanted to tell stories and provoke an emotional response. I wanted to be a Writer. I didn’t have grandiose plans for publication; I just assumed it would eventually happen. If you follow your heart, success will follow, right? How hard could it be?
Prior to my milestone decision, I’d worked for 5 years as an engineer at a telco and two years as a Career Consultant. None of this qualified me to become a writer, or a mother. In my ignorance, I thought maternity leave would give me loads of spare time to write. I know.
I soon discovered that the endless routine of nappies, breastfeeding and night feeds; the terror of emergency visits to the doctor; and the wonder of first smiles/words/steps didn’t leave much time for tapping my computer keys. Twenty months later, we had a second son and the demands on my time reached a new high.
Still, I persevered and as my children started to crawl and then walk, I wrote some truly cringe-worthy material. I followed classic advice and drew from what I knew—corporate life, redundancies and Melbourne real-estate auctions. I still have the files, which include recurring dreams and painful stereotypes—all things I’ve since discovered are major turn-offs for literary agents. Off the back of an engineering degree and a postgraduate diploma in Organisation Behaviour, I couldn’t face more study. I just wanted to write. In hindsight, working too long in isolation was Mistake No. 1. It took years of terrible writing before I finally acknowledged that I needed help. More about resources for writers in The Adventures of Sexy Legs and Pipsqueak.
But here’s the thing. I was writing. And that’s the first step. You are a writer if you’re writing. And once you articulate that ambition, you’ve committed to a path.
Over the years, I’ve met many people who talk about writing, but who don’t know where to start. My advice is, just get words on the page. It doesn’t matter how bad it is, just write. Tell us a real story. Or write an episode the way you wish it had been. Send social mores and inhibitions out the window. Make the argument end with a punch up. Make the sex mind-blowing … or truly terrible. Write as you speak, as if your audience were sitting in front of you. Don’t get hung up on the details, you can edit later.
And so The Winding Narrative begins—with 20 years of writing, several exciting projects and two (almost) grown up sons to my name, but still no published novel. Yet. Welcome aboard and enjoy the ride.
Next time: The Value of Failure