There is a story from writing lore that often pops to mind in moments of self-doubt. It is about Monica Ali on writing Brick Lane. I’m afraid I’m going to have to paraphrase this as I read it in a interview over a decade ago, but it goes something like this…
One morning, in her thirties, Monica Ali woke up and knew it was time to begin her novel. So she sat down that day, and every single day after that, until she completed and sold her rather wonderful debut novel, Brick Lane.
I find that this story straddles the boundaries of inspiring and depressing.
Inspiring because *it can happen!* A woman can decide the time is right to throw herself into writing and sticks to her commitment of writing a book all the way through to publication and distribution.
Depressing because…? *it’s never happened to me!* ~ ha!
I don’t just mean this in a sour grapes way. That way of becoming a writer, granted in its most pared down form, seems so simple and linear and it has just literally never happened to me. In becoming a writer, in claiming that title, it has been a much slower, gradual process. No sudden light bulbs. No perfectly formed linear sentences marching me from page one to page 400, accompanying me to a literary agent’s office then to a publisher.
So, if I’m not a multi-award winning novelist what does claiming myself as a writer mean to me? For that I need to get right down to basics…
- Living a thoughtful life of reflection
P and I often jokingly call ourselves ‘sociable hermits’. Hey ~ I like meeting up, but there’s not always time for it. Not because I’m out on another social engagement, but because sometimes I have to prioritise my thinking time. Not always a popular choice or one that everybody understands. But without time for reflection there is no writing life. And without a writing life, there is no writer.
2. Using the written word to express who I am and what I’m thinking
Well, you’re thinking “D’uh? Of course, a writer has to be able to write.” But this means commiting to writing pages and pages of drivel until I can distill what I’m thinking into something that I can share with others. For every page of poetry there is a hundred pages of the mind spewing itself over patient journal pages.
3. A passion for reading other writers
I don’t know any other way of learning about structure, format and possibility other than reading other people’s writing. I’m convinced that the best writers are those who read and think widely, and that a commitment to reading has the capacity to make me a better person and thus a better writer. So there!
4. A commitment to writing and reading everyday
This is, of course, so much easier on summer days, on holidays, on long days waiting for my teaching practice to begin again (like now!) But I know that being a writer also means doing this on the short, dark January days ~ when I’ve been out of the house for thirteen hours and I’m tired to the marrow. I put one paragraph in the journal. I try to put into words what I’m thinking, how I’m feeling. I resist the temptation to put the t.v. on as I slide into bed and I open a book, even if I’m slipping into sleep after barely a page.
5. Seeking out writing communities and readers
There has to be a motivation in writing. One part of it is exploring who I am, but that is incomplete without the other side ~ putting this into relation to the world we live in, and the people who live in it. But in a world of hundreds of thousands of writers (which is a fabulous revolution in itself), the readers don’t necessarily come seeking the writer ~ as a writer I have to do what I can to make myself seen, and give my words a chance of being read.
So, I’m a writer. I live thoughtfully, I write, I read ~ I do this everyday, and then I seek out readers to join the conversation.
But what does being a writer really mean to me?
It means truly being me. It means being happy.