It’s no secret that I came to the writing life late. Looking back, it seems as if my childhood plans to be a writer were frequently thwarted . But on reflection it is more likely that I let all those other life events get in the way of my dreams.
As stay-at-home mother with a large family, I wrote occasionally. But my efforts were sporadic and undisciplined. Fortunately, the editor of a small Catholic magazine (The Majellan, which is still in publication forty years later) liked some of the articles and short stories I sent him. From time to time he invited me to write on a special theme. At $5 a piece, that magazine paid for dozens of cloth nappies for the latest baby. Sometimes it paid for a pair of shoes or a school excursion for one of the older kids.
That editor, God bless him, kept my dreams of a writing life alive.
Later, I wrote short stories, book reviews and articles. Some were published. Most were not. Once I was awarded first place in a short story competition.
It wasn’t until retirement from the paid workforce was imminent that I decided to knuckle down. I made up my mind to be a writer. I wanted a writing life. I was 71 years old when my first book, Other People’s Country, was published.
These are some of the things about a writing life I wish I’d known earlier:
- There’s nothing magical about writing. Almost anyone can do it.
- It’s never too late to start.
- The best time to start is NOW.
- Thinking, dreaming and talking about writing are not writing.
- Committed writers write every day.
- Inspiration has very little to do with writing.
- Living a writing life depends on writing whether or not you feel like it on any given day.
Here are some tips that I’ve found helpful for living a writing life
- Keep a journal. Write three A4 pages in long-hand every morning. Begin at the beginning and keep your hand moving to the end.
- Don’t edit your thoughts or the pages. Write about anything you think. Write without corrections. These pages are for your eyes only
- Walk a lot. Walk regularly. There’s something about the rhythm of walking that stimulates the brain of a writer or any other creative person
- Keep the well of creativity primed. Do new things. Go to new places. Talk to different people. Speak a different language.
- Take time to think and daydream.
- Keep a notebook and pencil handy. The gem of an idea you think you could never forget will slip away unless you capture it.
- Writers learn from each other. I’m not sure that it’s possible to write well unless you are also reading.
- Read widely. Don’t always stick to the genre in which you are writing. Try new genres. Read poetry, plays, thrillers, classics, literary novels, romance, speculative fiction, flash fiction. The choice is unlimited for anyone interested in a writing life.
- Einstein is often quoted as saying, ‘Creativity is the intellect having fun.’ Give yourself time and space to play. Do some things you enjoy each week.
- Write first, edit later. The two processes are separate. First drafts are never pretty and can always be improved.
- Have several creative projects on the go at once. Writing and non-writing projects all work together. When you feel blocked in one area, move to another creative endeavour. They feed off each other.
- Another way to deal with a creative block is to act as if it isn’t there. In other words, ignore it. Move onto another part of your project. By some mysterious process, the block will resolve itself.
- Find support for your writing life. Find other people who are also writing to share your work with. Take a class or join an informal group. Become a member of a writers’ centre such as the Peter Cowan Writers’ Centre, the Society of Women Writers WA or a writers’ organisation in your area,
Remember, living a writing life is a process. Enjoy it!
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