I got offered a writer’s residency this week. Reading the email to tell me that my application for the residency was successful wasn’t quite as exciting as reading the email to tell me that my next novel would be published, but it was a wonderful email nonetheless. Writer-in-residence. Hey, wow, that’s so cool. Yay. It made me feel like I was back in my writer’s life. And it’s only now that I’m starting to feel that way again, that I do feel like I am living a writer’s life, that I realise I wasn’t feeling it before.
Some people find that turmoil and grief and black thoughts and long dark nights are good for their art and creativity. That absolutely wasn’t my experience. I found it almost impossible to write in the years after my dad’s death and through my grandfather’s ageing. That has had a far bigger impact on my writing than I realised. I was convinced – by which I mean I was filled with the belief – that I would never write anything of any substance again. The depth of that conviction was revealed to me over Christmas when I got my contributor copies of The Griffith Review: State of Hope. It’s the first thing I’ve submitted for years. When I flicked through and found it there, my writing published, I burst into tears. Proper sobbing tears.
I’ve often wondered whether people ever make conscious decisions that they’re not going to write. Like a teacher might leave teaching or an accountant might leave accounting, would a writer ever leave writing? Probably not. I imagine much more common is the gradual process of writing less and less, along with the whittling away of time until one day you wake up and think, Wait! What? But I was going to be a writer!
Over the last couple of years as my life has been going through a few transitions and as other transitions have been looming, I’ve had to think about what I’m going to do with myself, how I’m going to live my life. The thoughts I’d had about no longer being a writer solidified for quite some time. I know all the cliches that age is just a number and you’re only as old as you feel and fifty is the new seventeen and so on…but middle age made me think more carefully about how I spend my increasingly limited time. Sitting in front of your computer stringing words together that might or might not coalesce into a story that might or might not float a publisher’s boat and that people might or not respond to is one way of spending time, but there are many others. Making a living for example. There’s something more…a person has to make peace with the knowledge that even if writing is what she does best, she isn’t the best at writing. This is partly ego and a girl needs to get over herself, but also when a person reads a lot of wonderful books it does make her think that maybe there are better ways she can be of use to the world.
…none of this is what I intended to tell you…I was going to tell you about the residency but then I was going to tell you about the rest of my week as well…
…About the three day InDesign course I went to for two days and abandoned on the third because otherwise I would have needed brain surgery on the fourth oh my goodness humans is this the best we can do surely there are better ways of getting things from our brains to the printer;
…about the portrait session I had with a photographer because I need new headshots done – ‘Can you flirt a little bit?’ he asked. ‘What do you mean?’ I asked back and holy moly I really hope the mister doesn’t cark it because truly ruly my state of global celibacy will be permanent;
…about teaching the floppy adolescent to drive because he turned 16 and got his Ls and deadset one hundred percent this is the stuff that What to Expect When You’re Expecting doesn’t warn you about, eh…
and I do feel wrong for not even mentioning the fact that when I woke up this morning it was to the horrifying news that it is not just a dream and he-who-shall-not-be-named has been inaugurated as the president of a democracy and sweet baby cheeses save us all. But I’ve run out of writing time and I have to go and get the Future Prime Minister from cricket and if I don’t press publish now I never will.