The New Writer’s Room

Her back to the view, the new writer faces a blank wall. ‘Imagination must meet memory in the dark’, Annie Dillard wrote, ‘appealing workplaces must be avoided.’ And so despite the fresh new space which has been created just for her, a space crying out for colour and attention, the new writer assumes the position, fingers poised, no chance of a colourful distraction.

Behind her the Australian sky is raging with activity. A flock of birds flying in formation, their military precision wasted on the unseeing eye. Butterflies dance around the forgotten but persistent lemon tree. They may as well be pinned in a museum drawer, for the new writer is desperately trying to adhere to a routine, a strictness brought on by unfamiliarity.

Her time has been planned, organised down to the last full stop. An hour to ponder a character in her not-yet-started novel. An hour to peruse magazines to which she will submit as yet unwritten articles. An hour to map her thoughts on a bestselling book idea. An hour to trawl writing blogs for snippets of brilliance and good advice.

She resists the urge to turn and look at the clock on the wall. She is afraid the day outside will betray her determination to stay inside and write. She is concerned that one glimpse of the blue sky will destroy her resolve to remain a prisoner in her new room.

It is ironic that the plain and ordinary box the room was originally designed to be was forbidden by the local building planner. For reasons known only to the bureaucrat and his rubber stamp, the room had to be redesigned.

It now resembled an old cottage attic perhaps, or a French garret room. Its ceiling is angled and raked, the many junctions throwing the light in corners where there should have been none. It is a much more romantic and tortured room than the plain and ordinary box the room was meant to be.

It is perfect for the new writer to begin her craft.

But the silence is distracting, the bareness of the wall diverting. The new writer is not used to the blank canvas of time and space this new room affords her. She is used to the colour and energy of her young children. She is used to stealing moments of time at her computer propped on the kitchen table between the crayons and the half eaten apples. This new space is altogether too pure and her mind is drawing a blank.

The new writer stands and reluctantly leaves her room. She leaves behind her space of supposed work, creativity and inspiration and heads downstairs to her world of family and chaos. The house is quiet though, her children and husband allowing her today to write undisturbed, to begin her new life alone. Her fingers lightly brush the kitchen table, still covered with unfinished breakfast and half read newspapers. The corner where she sat to write for so long, the corner of the kitchen table she could not wait to escape, is now just an ordinary corner heaped high with papers, a precarious pile of glittered and decorated offerings.

The words flowed from that kitchen table. She can still hear the words bouncing around the room, words about the trials and tribulations of being a mother, the pains of parenting, the small gifts given to us in the form of first steps and new experiences. The words overflow and fill the room. But the new writer knows that those words were amateur, proffering little more than snippets of news she shared with family and friends afar, vignettes of vanity, her motherly pride sometimes getting the better of her. Those words were not the utterances of a real writer.

The silence is even lonelier downstairs in the rooms normally filled with the laughter and noise of children, so the new writer feels drawn to the sterility of the haven provided upstairs. Time seems to operate on a new dimension in the writer’s new room. Where once her fingers would fly across the keyboard and the words would form themselves on the screen before she had even seen them in her mind, now the words were stuck and she struggled to find them, hiding as they were in the recesses of her imagination. Where once she had to snatch five minutes of time to write, now the prospect of a day alone in her attic cell petrified her.

Many sacrifices were made so that the new writer could call herself that. Paid work was abandoned, and along with it the monetary and social rewards that came with it. The risk of starting again was not just on the shoulders of the one who was making the changes but on all the family. Being back at the starting line in middle age brought with it the very real risk of staying there.

And so the new writer returns to her writing room and once again assumes the position. She wonders whether the new technology is stifling her creativity and toys with the idea of nib and ink, or at least an old typewriter. She stares forward at the blank wall waiting for inspiration to come. Shadows dancing in the corner of her eye threaten to distract her. She must not be diverted, she is a new writer with a dream. Her new room is jeopardising her ability to concentrate and she has the very real concern that she will not succeed as a writer, and the world will soon discover that she is in fact a fraud.

The shadows in the corner of her eye call up a chorus, assaulting her concentration and rendering her incapable of writing. She turns to face her accusers, ready to admit that she is not a writer, that this was all a reverie. The wall in front of her is dotted with framed pages and she stands to examine them more closely. Her name springs from each of them, her name in print. These are her completed works, letters and stories, articles and competition pieces, all published, all framed. They are the only decoration to adorn the otherwise bare walls in her new writing room, the only ornamentation allowed in this hallowed space. They were a gift from her old self to her new dream, to inspire and encourage. They were never meant to deny her the opportunity to become all that she desired.

As she gazes upon her name, she finally sees what has always been clear: she has always been a writer. It is just the room that is new.

 

 

 

Loving Something Doesn’t Mean It Will Love You Back

I am in the final throes of a Graduate Diploma of Professional Writing at university, and I was very excited to finally do a unit dedicated to writing for children. I thought it would be a shoe-in. I am a mother of three little girls, I read picture books til my head spin. Every room in my house is graced with some form or another of stories for children.

How hard could it be?

My first assessment was to write a picture book. In four weeks.

I laughed out loud when I realised this: because if it was possible to write a picture book in just four weeks, then everyone would be doing it and we would all be millionaires. We certainly wouldn’t need to go to uni to learn how to do it.

I had what I thought was a brilliant, quirky made-up idea, wrote my 300 words, developed some great concepts for the illustrator and sent it in for marking.

When I saw my grade (16/30) I thought there had been a mistake. Was I really just three percent off failing? I never fail.

After speaking with the tutor and reading her well-reasoned comments, I had to admit – reluctantly, bitterly, sadly – that yes, it was a totally crap book and kids and parents would probably hate it. (NB She didn’t actually say people would hate it, those are my words).

That was if they actually understood it.

It was a bitter pill to swallow. Just because I am a writer and a parent does not automatically mean I am cut out to be a picture book writer. And just because you want something doesn’t mean it will want you back (a lesson for more in life than just writing).

I also realised that my strength as a writer lies in telling stories that are based in fact. Yes, I am known to embroider the truth a little, to elaborate, exaggerate and mess around with little things like chronology, but everything I write – from stories about having three kids on Relentless, to reviews on WeekendNotes, to the fact-based short stories about my historical houses that won me awards – are all based on truth.

Why make things up when the truth is available?

So although my brush with failure is a smack in the face to my pride, it is also quite liberating. I realise it sounds like I am just giving up, but I am not. It has made me realise something about my abilities. Write what you know is a well known adage in the writing world and I knew I couldn’t afford to break the rule twice.

So for my second assessment, a junior fiction novel, I have based it on people and events from my own life. It is a veritable Frankenstein of truth, albeit repackaged with new names and a cutesy protagonist.

Stay tuned and I will let you know how I go.