Image source: Flickr / hippydream
When I was in year ten, my high school counsellor asked every student the same horrifyingly poignant question: 'What are you going to do when you finish school?' It was a slightly more adult way of asking 'What do you want to be when you grow up?', with the added intensity of a time limit. Now was the time to decide, so that you picked the right subjects for years eleven and twelve, to ensure you could meet the prerequisites for the degree that would get you The Job. I told the school counsellor very confidently and succinctly that I wanted to be a writer. I was going to move to Melbourne to study journalism, I knew what score and subjects I needed. A tick was placed beside my name and I was dismissed. Fifteen years later, I am finally starting to write.
Somehow I lost the confidence to take a traditional path into writing. Like a magpie, I swooped on whatever was new and interesting, and in some cases what could take my mind off bigger things in my life. I spent almost fifteen years being distracted, often writing along the way, but never taking it seriously. But now, I’ve decided to write. This is not because I’ve lost those distractions, or because I’ve curtailed obstacles or found some great big pot of bravado. I realised that there will always be distractions, there are always going to be obstacles, there will never be enough self-confidence. So why don’t I just give it a shot?
I think one of the advantages of taking a non-linear path into writing is you have all this crap that’s happened to you before you started writing - this is solid gold material. Some of my favourite novels, stories, and passages of writing communicate something very natural and ordinary in an extraordinary way. You may think you’ve led a boring, white bread life, but dig around enough and you’ll find enough ideas to start turning those into articles or stories. Every time you went travelling instead of going to uni, every shitty job you took, every time your heart was broken: write about it. It won’t always be of a publishable standard, but it will get words on the page, which will give you ideas for the future, and again, you will prove to yourself that you can do it.
However, not studying literature and not having a communications degree can play on your confidence as an emerging writer. You won’t have been published in student media. You’ll be fresh to the experience of having your work edited. You won’t have as many connections with other writers until you start publishing and start attending writers’ festivals or joining writers’ groups. But this doesn’t mean you can’t write: it just means you might have to do it differently. As hard as it is, try to quiet the voice in your head that tells you don’t have anything important to say, that you have no fresh ideas, that you’re not good enough. The more I’ve learnt about writing and writers, the more I’ve realised that everyone thinks this, even your heroes. You have to start somewhere, so just get something down on the page. Each time you write you’ll think of something else to write about next time. Every time you get words on the page you prove to yourself that you can do it. It won’t always be easy, but it’s better than not trying at all.
If you don’t have those communities from university, you need to build them yourself. Attending writers’ festivals has been the best thing I’ve done for my writing: not just to hear people speak about writing and ideas, but to meet other people and build a network of friends who you can support, and who can support you. It’s motivating, empowering and validating. Only after appearing on a panel earlier this year at the Emerging Writers’ Festival did I start to call myself a writer. Being invited to attend the National Young Writers’ Festival a few months later validated what I was doing and has been a great push to keep going. There is something really special about being in a room with other people who love stories, People who also want to bang their heads against the wall after an hour of staring at a blank page, who also don’t think they’re any good and don’t know where to start. This is a community that will do everything it can to help you. But don’t limit yourself to befriending writers of the same vein - also connect with editors, publishers, established authors, people who you admire for forging a career and people who you stumbled across online because they wrote something awesome. Tell them. It might help someone else who is struggling with confidence to keep writing. Being a nice person helps you be a better writer.
And once you’ve started, don’t give up. I think the key to this is allowing yourself to make time to write. Part of not coming straight out of university is that you often have a lot of other stuff going on in your life - jobs, partners, family - all vying for your attention. I’m currently working full time so every week day I get up at 6am so I can write for an hour or so before I go to work. It’s exhausting, but I get more done in that time than I ever do when I have a whole day set aside for writing. Sometimes all the forces working against you can be the best motivation. Not having time to write has made me more determined than ever to keep writing, and more disciplined with the time I have.
So maybe you also haven’t studied writing. Maybe you’ve also spent too much time thinking you’re not good enough. Maybe you’re always too busy. Don’t let it stop you. If you really want to write, just write.
Kylie Maslen is a writer of creative nonfiction and short fiction, based in Melbourne. Her blog book-plate is an ongoing account of what she’s been reading and what she’s been eating, through personal essays that combine narrative nonfiction, literary criticism and recipes. She has spoken about her writing at the National Young Writers’ Festival and Emerging Writers’ Festival.
Sam van Zweden was Writers Bloc’s Online Editor from 2013 - 2015. A Melbourne-based writer and blogger, her work has appeared in The Big Issue, Voiceworks, Tincture Journal, Page seventeen, and others. She’s passionate about creative nonfiction and cross stitch. She tweets @samvanzweden.