Scarlett Harris on not wanting to write a book—but wanting to want to write a book.
Should I Write A Book?
It seems like every week another young Australian writer is publishing a book. This is not a bad thing: fans of the Aussie literary scene are spoilt for choice. Emily Maguire’s An Isolated Incident and Charlotte Wood’s The Natural Way of Things were two of my favourite books of last year. I’m slowly making my way through my to-read pile towards Laura Elizabeth Woollett’s story collection The Love of a Bad Man and I’m eagerly awaiting the release of Brodie Lancaster’s No Way! Okay, Fine in June.
Why are we obsessed with the idea that to be a writer you have to write a book?
But the book publishing prolificacy of my peers on the Aussie writing scene makes me feel like crap. For me, apart from a couple of scripts and some fan-fiction in high school, enough creative ideas to fill a novel just haven’t come. I feel that my skill is zeroing in on a cultural moment that can be explored in a 1000 word op-ed rather than in a longer work of fiction or memoir. I suppose a book could be formed from some of these essays, though somehow I don’t think there’s much of a market for feminist wrestling theory! And while I sometimes use experiences in my own life to inform my writing (as with this very article), I’m not sure yet if I would want to share them in book-form.
Am I the only young Aussie writer who feels this way?
When I posed this question on social media circles, only two fellow writers answered my call. Sonia Nair, deputy general manager of Right Now magazine and publisher of the blog Whatever Floats Your Bloat, was one of them.
“I feel quite isolated from the literary community I reside in because I don't want to write a book,” Nair writes to me in an email. “It's a question people within and outside the community often ask me, and they're invariably surprised when I say I don't harbour a desire to do so.”
Why are we obsessed with the idea that to be a writer you have to write a book? I think it’s a reliance on forms of old media, both within and outside the writing industry. Mainstream thought is only just coming around to the notion that blogging, micro-blogging and writing online are valid forms of publishing, yet we still want to squeeze them into book form to give them legitimacy. The Book of Jezebel, No to Feminism and Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminist and Difficult Women are examples of writing that initially appeared online but that is now available at your local bookshop or, more likely, online book retailer. And for writers like myself, who mostly deal in trend pieces and articles examining of-the-moment happenings, I’m baffled as to how to transition my online work to the physical page.
Why would my name come to mind to a reader, publisher or writer’s festival organiser over that of a sure thing?
The second writer to respond to my call was the editor of Metro, Adolfo Aranjuez, who actually has published a novella—so it looks like Nair and I are on our own. Aranjuez did have some insight into the slog that is writing a full-length novel or book of essays, though. “Where I’m at in my career, writing a full-length book just doesn’t sound all that appealing—I currently enjoy the constraints of long-form and medium-length essays, which challenge me to expound on my ideas with concision,” he tells me via Twitter message, a comfort zone that I can definitely relate to.
Concerns about being the only Aussie writer without designs to draft a book of my own could be dismissed as FOMO on what all the cool kids are doing, but Nair makes the valid point that “opportunities like residencies and competitions are closed to [us].” Though many of the writers I admire mentioned above have also had work published online, fears of being edged out of the writing community without a book to our name aren’t irrational. Why would my name come to mind to a reader, publisher or writer’s festival organiser over that of a sure thing?
As a published author himself, Aranjuez has these words of wisdom to impart to me, Nair and anyone else feeling similarly disillusioned by not wanting to write a book. “There are so many other, more talented writers out there with more compelling experiences to recount, and I’d rather step aside and let them take the spotlight,” he says. By all accounts, this is exactly what the young Aussie writing community is doing. Without an expansive idea to put into print, I’ll be reluctantly joining him in the shadows. For now.
If you do have a novel in the works and want some advice, get in touch here.
Header image credit, Anthony Jauneaud, Flickr
Scarlett Harris is a regional Victoria-based freelance writer, musing about femin- and other -isms.