Some people think I’m arrogant.
They think, where does she get off, dishin’ out all this advice about creative writing? She doesn’t know everything.
Shocking, I know.
But it’s probably true. There is a slim chance I don’t know everything.
But I can tell you when it comes to creative writing there’s not much I haven’t done wrong.
Yeah. You read that right.
I’ve done most of it wrong. Repeatedly.
That’s why I feel qualified to give advice.
Because I’ve done all the dumb things.
Some of the dumb things have haunted me for decades.
Take for instance, writing fiction for adults.
Occasionally, in a masochistic moment, I’ve read back over my old manuscripts. And groaned with embarrassment.
I even entered one of my *awful stories into a competition.
For a prize, no less.
As soon as I pressed ‘enter’ I knew I’d made a mistake.
I wanted to thrust my fist inside that computer and wrench the manuscript back out. You know, like a squealing mandrake.
I shudder to think that thing, that ‘story’, is still out there. Still lingering in computer cloudland. Waiting to resurface when I’m rich and famous. Waiting to bring me to my knees via a sordid blackmailing scandal.
The problem was, of course, whenever I sat down to write for adults, I could not get past my ego.
My ego made me feel scared and insecure.
It told me that unless I could write like Annie Proulx or Helen Garner or Tim Winton, it wasn’t worth the effort. Unless I wrote Literature, I would make a terrible fool of myself.
So I tried to write like Annie Proulx and Helen Garner and Tim Winton.
And I made a fool of myself.
I used to think this disaster was all to do with voice.
I was trying to mimic their lyricism, tone and stylistic gymnastics.
But it was more than that.
Now, many years later, I realise I was also trying to mimic their themes and preoccupations.
Gawd, I was trying to mimic their material.
I was doomed.
Because I’m not a hard arse. I’m not wired that way. Never have been.
So every time I tried to write something gutsy and realist and gritty, I came a cropper.
Landed face first in the literary gravel.
I was like Bambi dressed up as a hunter. No matter how clever the costume, there was something NQR. (not quite right.)
Trying to write like the big boys, trying to be someone I’m not, also made writing a chore, an agony.
Worse still, it made writing a great big freakin’ bore.
No wonder I never saw anything through. (*Except the awful story of which we shall not speak.)
Recently, I was rereading Brenda Ueland. I was struck by her reference to ‘assumed brutality’. Ueland says,
The he-man pose is just as much a pose as a sissified refinement. We think of hypocrites as pretending to be doves. But they also pretend to be eagles and lions.
When writing for kids, I don’t have to be an eagle or a lion. I don’t have to be hard arse. I can be imaginative and playful and absurd.
Writing for kids allows me all these freedoms. All the freedoms I would not allow myself when writing for adults.
But hang on.
That doesn’t make sense.
Why can’t I be imaginative and playful, AND write for adults?
Therein lies the dumb thing.
The dumb thing I accepted for YEARS.
I excluded myself from an entire category of writing simply because I didn’t question my own assumptions. I didn’t look deeply into my own self-talk.
Now I have a clearer understanding.
Now I can say when it comes to writing fiction for adults, I’m still figuring out how to write from my heart.
One day I might even get there.
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