Wednesday, June 20, 2012

We're not so different after all, us writers

This post has taken sooo long to write. It's been over a week since I finished reading The Emerging Writer and, though it contains enough writing about writing, I felt compelled to write something about this book of writing about writing. 

Because the book, as well as the Emerging Writers Festival in Melbourne, was informative inspiring and articulated so many senses of thoughts I felt like I'd had.
So I've been pondering, jotting down thoughts and flicking back through the between other commitments: the full-time job, half-marathon training, yoga, socialising, eating, sleeping, tweeting ... life is hard for a hobby writer.

Oh, did I just call myself that?

Well there you go. I'm doing that now.

Sure, I have a communications job and I love being creative with words - when it's flowing, which can be the key to, or a distraction from, productivity depending on whether I'm at work or not. But I've always been loathe to call myself a 'writer' or even tell people I write stuff other than the work content they don't care about or the social workday emails they're subjected to. What if they want to read something? I'm not as good as I want to be yet!

I don't even really promote this blog among my friends (as in, people I know - 'tweeps' are different). There's just a lonely little link on my Facebook 'About' page for those who are interested enough to find it.

So when can one call themself a writer? When they speak like they're writing a period play or know whether to use 'themself' or 'themselves' (still gets me)? It doesn't require a qualification or a paying job; there are sub-categorical, official titles for those roles - journalist, novellist, public relations specialist, bullshit artist. You're a writer - whether you choose to write for fun, fulfillment and/or funding - when you believe you are and do something with your passion for words.

I run - I'm a runner (not an athlete); I do yoga - I'm a yogi; I tweet - I'm a tweeter; I drink - I'm a drinker (not an alcoholic [and that's not denial]). I write - I'm a writer. It doesn't matter whether you write stories, articles, plays, haikus, blog posts, letters, toilet wall commentary, whatever. Artists are the last people who should be drawing restrictive boundaries around who is and isn't a writer, and the rest wouldn't know anyway.

The book discusses all of this, so I digress.

The festival and book were amazing antidotes to my self-doubt. I realised just how much other writers (man I love using that word inclusively!) experience, or have conquered, the same uncertainties. Just the fact that other people I absolutely consider writers had trouble calling themselves writers helped me get past my hesitation. It's a big, important step too, because it means you believe in what you're doing and just get on with it. As Alan Bissett contributes: "An ego bereft of self-criticism becomes mere vanity. But if you're not sure you can actually do it then, quite simply, you won't"

As well the tips, information and entertainment value, the whole experience was somewhat cathartic, almost like a group therapy session. I came away rejuvenated and energised about writing and it's possibilities for me. 
Sadly the festival only lasts ten days or so and uncertainty stumbles back in the door eventually. So thank god for The Emerging Writer. It not only reaffirmed the possibilities instilled by various events, but fleshed out some of the issues in more depth and offered a greater range of voices than I'd been able to see at the festival. And, most importantly, it's now on my shelf for returning reference and affirmation.

So many thoughts about writing that I hadn't been able to articulate; so many doubts and difficulties I'd experienced but not really discussed; so many questions I had about how others write but didn't have the network to ask... the book nailed it all.

Words are strange. They seem instinctive, but they're not - they're learned. How we experience life internally is unavoidably somewhat different to how we express ourselves. We feel and sense and attempt to convey that in words. Some of us are better than others at it. Yet we continue to rely on people's statements as perfect summaries of their thoughts and feelings. We never get it exactly right, but that's where body language and other context helps.

Throw in a little pressure and the impatience to blurt something out, and extract a little context, and you see why tabloid journalism has ruined considered political discussion. We under-appreciate and oversimplify the complexity of self expression through words.

I feel like I can never find my words. I need time to think and let go of the anxiety over not being able to find my words. I'd be crucified as a politician. And may I never defend them as a group again.

But words are critical. Leah Gerber discusses translators in The Emerging Writer. I'd say all writers are translators - English is our second internal language. Writers explore and seek to make sense of the complex human experience through that powerful, but restricted, human constuct called language.
Most writers seem to have a love of music. Music is the international language, at its best a raw expression of these feelings that often transcends words. Sometimes it works better than words. That's why lyrics can be so simple, obscure, unintelligible or unnecessary. Sometimes it resonates in ways we can't articulate. But a writer's job is to try and translate those feelings, senses and experiences into words, to enhance human connection. Language is all about connection.

The Emerging Writer reassured me that I'm not the only one who agonises over the process of turning a notion, a sense, a feeling or an abstract idea into worthy text. I feel like I have some fantastic ideas, but still so often worry I ruin their meaning as I attempt to put them into words. After years and years of doing it, I'm still learning. Still finding my voice.

A few things were reiterated time and time again at the festival and in the book. Firstly, if you want to get good, write often - every day. I stopped writing for enjoyment for a long time, thinking I'd pick it back up when I felt I could do my aspirations justice, when anxiety wasn't a roadblock anymore. That wasn't going to happen entirely, so - at the insistence of a friend - I started blogging.
Secondly - don't tell, show. It's a writing mantra - one for living too, in my opinion - and the one I'm working on getting better at (in writing and living). It's crucial, but it's more than that. Don't make the reader aware with impressive words, find the right words to make them feel. As unfathomable as it may be to aspiring artists, being pretentious doesn't resonate with anyone. Except the wankiest, untalented arts student.
Then there's the ever-present battle to translate free flowing imaginative, creative thought into meaningful words. Why is it I get the most ideas when I'm in a yoga class or running the Tan, with no ability to note them down - the more I try and imprint an idea or sentence in my mind the more I struggle to remember it and when I sit down to write the pressure to do so blocks the flow. Maybe they weren't properly formed arrangements words anyway.

My favourite thought from my favourite contribution to the book, come from Esther Anatolitis:

"Writing is not about making words form neat sentences, tight paragraphs, concise verse and complete texts. Writing is about making meaningful connections between ideas as they develop, harnessing what's linguistic about them and crafting this across the page."
So that's that. Another post done. Now I'll enjoy the feeling of accomplishment and get back to my work, before being consumed by the next idea (or thinking about how I could have written this better).

Hell, maybe I'll even pitch to The Emerging Writer next year.

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