I Don’t Think I Am a Stalker

Have you ever had the experience where you read something, and think ‘Oh my God. That is EXACTLY what I was thinking. That person must know me. We must be, like, TWINS.’

I have that experience on a fairly regular basis when I read a column by Perth writer Ros Thomas, every Saturday morning in the West Australian.

Although she is a few years older than me, and her eldest child is a teenager and a boy, and she is actually qualified to call herself a writer (she was a journalist for more than two decades), I often feel that her words could be my very own, and the experiences she writes about, could be something that happened to me only days prior. It’s kinda spooky, but it gives me the (false) impression that I KNOW her, or (even more creepy), that she knows me. Which she doesn’t.

She smiled at me once though and looked in my direction. I went with a friend to one of her book launches, because my friend actually knows her, and was kind enough to introduce me. And then they went back to talking about stuff that I wasn’t involved in. But that was okay, because I was so excited to just see her in person. When you read someone’s words regularly, you begin to form ideas of what they look like and sound like, more than the tiny little photo in the corner of the magazine ever gives away.

When she began to talk to the assembled group about some of her favourite columns and how she came to be a writer, I did what I always do when people around me are being smart – I began to write down everything she said. Part of me (the overly optimistic and possibly delusional part) sometimes thinks that she is me in five or ten years time, and that her writing success could be mine if I continue down this road. She is a mum with three kids who is also a writer. So am I! She just happens to have a book deal. So I was eager to soak up everything she had to say.

At one stage I felt that she was describing me when she said that sometimes she jumps out of bed to write down a funny thought, that she is constantly writing notes, ideas and overheard conversations on bits of paper. I wanted to put my hand up and tell her I keep a white board in the shower in case I get a really good idea when I am washing my hair (but I didn’t).

So, fellow writers, here are some of the pearls that this fantastic – and very humble and real – writer had to say:

  • Don’t write about anything you haven’t experienced yourself. It will keep you authentic and on track.
  • Writing is a discipline. Force yourself to sit at your desk even if you are not inspired, eventually something will come.
  • Do a lot of research. Even for a simple story, there are more facts or background that can help improve a story and make it even richer.
  • Be forensic in your observations. Go back to a place where a thought or story came into your head. Take pictures. Look at the colours, the smell, the texture. Make it authentic. If you are secure in your mental imagery, it will make you a better writer.
  • Remember the musicality and rhythm of language. Your writing must be able to be read effortlessly.
  • The hardest thing to get right is dialogue. If you are writing about a conversation you had, get it on paper as soon as possible.

At the end of the session we had the opportunity to buy a copy of her book and have it signed. I desperately wanted to ask her an intelligent question, but I could only babble my name. I wanted to tell her how she told my stories, and asked my questions and (occasionally) lived my life. But as I listened to other people in the queue, I realised that they all felt the same way. They felt an attachment to this woman as well, whether they were young or old or male or female. Mostly female though.

It was a timely reminder of the value of being common, and I certainly don’t mean that in a derogatory way. By common, I mean recognisable, universal and familiar. It is our shared experiences which bring us together, whether we are reading a column in a newspaper or a blog on the internet. Being told I am common is the comment I value the most by my own readers – ‘you have written exactly what I have been thinking’ or ‘I am so glad I am not the only one who does that.’

Ros Thomas put into words a common experience. She just does it very beautifully, and effortlessly. I wasn’t able to tell her any of this, but I’m sure she already knows.

When I got home and looked at the book she had signed, I saw she had written ‘it was lovely to meet you’, and I thought to myself: thanks to the power of words, we already know each other.

 

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I Write, Therefore I Am

Tonight I went to the first Perth catch-up of the Australian Writers’ Centre. It was rather late notice, but 22 Perth writers found themselves in the middle of the city on a Friday night, in a reluctant circle, drinking wine.

We were a mixed bag. Young, old, novelists, ex-journos, bloggers. Published, unpublished. Enthusiastic. Jaded.

Like kids on the first day of school we went around the group introducing ourselves. I was first. I hate going first, but it’s better than going last, where you cannot focus on what others are saying because you are too concerned about what you are going to say, and not sounding like a complete moron.

One man observed it was ironic there was a public speaking component in a writers get-together. For many of us, we write because we cannot speak. For others, it was an opportunity to talk. A lot.

For the rest of us, peering around the room at our peers it was an opportunity to come up for air, get out from behind the solitude of the computer screen and interact in the world we write about. Hands were shaken, business cards swapped.

What we all had in common, apart from a distaste for travelling to the city, was a reason for being.

We were writers.

The only qualification you need to be a writer, isn’t a qualification at all. You don’t need a university degree to be a writer. You don’t need to be published to be a writer. You don’t need to earn a living to be a writer. (These things do help though).

You merely need to write.

I still stammer sometimes when I tell people I am a writer. I trip over my words, like I am a small child playing make-believe. ‘I am a princess,’ my three year old tells me, merely because she is wearing a plastic tiara. She believes it, so she is.

I write, therefore I am.

 

Welcome to my new blog: a writers blog. If you’re interested in being a parent maybe head to Relentless or if you like food then taste a bit of Meat, Three Veg and a Bottle of Wine. But if you are interested in the art of writing, then stick around… maybe you can teach me something.