I have recently graduated from calling myself a ‘writer, kind of’, to just a writer, without any apology or hesitation.
No big deal, it only took me four years. I had such reservations about this loaded term. When I called myself a writer it felt as if I was making some ostentatious declaration. It was like saying “Please make way for my artistic presence”. The trouble is that I was a writer even when I thought I wasn’t, and it’s only dawning on me now that I’ve been a writer since the day I decided to start writing.
It helps to take in the term without all the artistic fluff that goes along with it. Pop culture has turned the occupation into something so much more glamorous, exciting and romantic than many everyday writers could ever hope to be.
The reality is that most of us are working for the man, getting paid a pittance and leaning our cheeks against our palms wondering if our big break will ever come. Calling yourself a writer was hard for me (and hard for certain people I know too) because it’s a role that you have to work up to.
A writer is many things – a thinker, a dreamer, an inventor, an individual whose inspiration and ideas come from their heart and their mind. The term is dreamy, escapist and vested in all those experiences we want to express to the world but can’t.
Writers find it hard to call themselves writers because they have an image to live up to.
I never used to be able to look someone in the eye and say “Hello, I’m a writer”, simply because I felt like it was so pretentious. I need to remind myself that it’s a legitimate job. It mightn’t pay much and there’s not always a lot of work in it, but it’s a real occupation. That’s something I never fully realised until recently.
I used to have my judgments about those who unabashedly labelled themselves writers or artists. Part of me was envious of their confidence and another part of me was critical of it. Silently, I’d come to my conclusions about whether they were worthy or not based on their experience and professional reception. If they weren’t published then I didn’t take them seriously. I know how arrogant that sounds but if you talk the talk, you have to walk the walk.
Nowadays, I realise that a writer’s identity is much simpler than that romantic hunched figure brooding behind a desk. A writer is anyone who enjoys writing and does it on the regular. It’s anyone who prefers writing over other mediums in self-expression. It can be anyone who simply identifies with the term. You don’t even have to have things published in order to ratify the truthfulness of your title. A professional writer might be someone who practices writing on a higher tier and receives financial gain from their work. But emerging writers and professional writers both leap from the same page. They are both using words, shifting them across the page and painting reality with text. It doesn’t take a professional writer to create something worthwhile and fantastic.
The sooner one can define oneself in what they enjoy doing, the more confident they are in doing whatever that is. When I shifted my weight from side to side in answer to the question, “What do you do?” it would’ve made me seem unsure and insecure about what I did. I was never unsure or insecure about my enjoyment of writing and wanting to pursue a career in it. All I was insecure about was how other people would receive such a grandiose term.
Well, it’s not that grand at the end of the day. It’s only an act of self-expression. You can be a writer – and a good one too – without conforming to any of those stereotypes about what a writer should be. Now all that is to me is ego stroking and that’s not something writers in general are fond of.
I used to think to myself, I can only call myself a writer after I’ve had a dozen articles published in different publications. Deciding to call oneself a writer is something that is more personal and subjective than that. I held myself back with such solid and tangible criteria when I could’ve skipped all the measuring and cut straight to the chase.
So yes, I do call myself a writer now, without the ums and uhs that would have followed out of my insecurity years ago. There’s nothing more to it than that. I’m a writer. Full stop.
Wilde Magazine, a bi-annual print and digital publication, is looking for art, poetry and prose by and for the queer community.
Sassafras Literary Magazine is seeking poetry, flash fiction, nonfiction and artwork (no deadline has been set at this stage, but they publish monthly). Just make sure you paste your submission in the text of your email and don’t send attachments – these submissions will be deleted.
The Canary Press is currently accepting short stories up to 7,000 words, travel columns you would never find in an in-flight magazine, and postcard fiction of 150 words or less. They’re also looking for letters and holiday-themed stories.
The WB Yeats Poetry Prize is open to Australian entrants until Tuesday December 31. First prize is $500, while second prize is $75. There are no themes, though there is a 50 line limit.
The Griffith Review Novella Competition is open to residents of Australia and New Zealand. The theme: forgotten stories with a historical dimension. Submissions of 12,000-35,000 words (preferred but not set in stone) are due Friday January 31 and winners will share a $25,000 prize pool. The final works will be published in the Griffith Review fiction edition and as eSingles online.
The Josephine Ulrick Literature and Poetry prizes are open to Australian residents until Friday January 31. First prize in both cases is $10,000, while second prize is a not-too-shabby $5,000. You can take a look at past winning entries here.
MENTORSHIPS, INTERNSHIPS and OPPORTUNITIES
Under 25s – Express Media are offering four one day a week internships in administration, marketing and communications, awards and special projects, and education programs. Applications are open until Monday January 13. Check out their website for details.
And Voiceworks is looking for an editor! Manage the artistic direction of the magazine for a two year contract period. This is a fantastic opportunity for emerging editors, particularly those interested in working with young volunteers. Applications for this position close Monday February 3.
The other day I received a phone call from a girlfriend as she browsed the shelves for a new book.
“Have you read The Rosie Project?” she asked.
My response was a gushing “Absolutely. Loved it. You won’t be able to put it down.”
It wasn’t until later that evening, after my friend was happily in possession of her new book, that I realised I’d made a horrible mistake. It wasn’t The Rosie Project I’d been thinking of at all. I struggled with that book – couldn’t even finish it. It was The Beloved by Annah Faulkner that I was picturing (in order to understand how I could get two such books confused you’d need an insight into the muddled, dysfunctional workings of my brain as those only close to me have learned to tolerate).
The two books couldn’t be more different. The Rosie Project is written in the voice of 39-year-old Don Tillman: a methodical, geeky IT professional somewhere on the autistic spectrum. The Beloved is written in the voice of Bertie: a determined, resilient young girl growing up in New Guinea with a crippled leg and a passion for drawing.
The Rosie Project is sharp and witty – I probably should have given it more of a chance. Yet somehow, I became all fidgety and teeth-grindy at the thought of spending the entire book with the harmless but tedious Don. Sorry Don.
Bertie’s voice, on the other hand, had me captivated from the first paragraph.
Do you ever loiter around the bookstore flicking through the first pages of a book to see if it grabs you or not? You’ve read the blurb on the back cover, you’re already intrigued, but it’s the voice that’s the deciding factor. It’s a little like choosing guests for a dinner party. Will they be interesting enough to spend an entire evening with? Will they make us laugh? Weep? Will we be itching to pour a bottle of red over them before the hors d’oeuvres are even finished? Do people even serve hors d’oeuvres anymore?
Voice is a personal flavour, like chocolate ice-cream. You either like it, or you don’t.
The Rosie Project has been sold to 30 different countries with advances exceeding $1 million, so there must be plenty of people out there who would place Don at the top of their dinner party invitee list.
Whether we connect or not, what is it that makes a voice strong and compelling? In her book, How Bullets Saved My Life: Fun Ways To Teach Some Serious Writing Skills, author Judy Green mentions:
“Strong voice is engaging to read. Energy and emotions charge the writing so that it is compelling and full of conviction. The writer’s tone is interesting and presence is powerful. Readers can “hear” personality in the writing. A weak voice, on the other hand, creates a watered-down effect, where the writer seems indifferent to the subject or distanced from the audience. The writing is plain, and the author sounds monotonous, flat, or even bored. With a weak voice, a writer loses the reader’s emotional investment.”
For me personally, I like a voice to show flair, to be stylish and consistent. To show depth and perspective. It’s not enough to be just dry and witty, I want to fall in love, or at least click like I’m making a new best friend. Show me you care and I will too. Lead me and I will follow.
How do we find our voice in writing? Nathan Bransford said the following on his blog:
“Your voice is in you. It’s not you per se, but it’s made up of bits and pieces of you. It may be the expression of your sense of humor or your whimsy or your cynicism or frustration or hopes or honesty, distilled down or dialed up into a voice. We should never make the mistake as readers of equating an author with their voice, but they’re wrapped up together in a complicated and real way. We leave fingerprints all over our work. That part of you in your work is what makes it something that no one else can duplicate.”
I haven’t apologised to my friend yet. I figured I’d let her finish the book first and make up her own mind. Let’s hope she sides with all those fans who would willingly sit next to Don at a dinner party.
What are your favourite/least favourite voices?
Over the next few weeks, we’re going to be trawling through various social media platforms to find our favourite writer’s resources.
Our first stop was Tumblr; that bandwidth-killing rabbit hole that seems to bring out the fun and crazy in equal measure.
It’s often overlooked by literary bloggers because it’s so visual, but it’s being embraced by some for its layouts and interactive elements.
While it’s not always the easiest place to navigate if you don’t know where to go – the creative writing tag is a hotchpotch of motivational quotes and hilarious reaction gifs that will put you in such a good mood you’ll forget what you were searching for in the first place – there are some fantastic and comprehensive writing tools on there that other blogging platforms just can’t replicate.
For the Tumblr shy, “Fuck Yeah” blogs tend to be the ones to follow because they’re the most established and popular. This one is designed to get you thinking more deeply about your character’s basic personality traits, physical appearance and motivations. Writers are free to ask anonymous questions about how to tackle specific problems, while there are also writing challenges and prompts to get you thinking about how your character would react in certain situations.
Now that you’ve got the guts of your character down on paper, you might be having trouble picturing them in your head. Character Inspiration is simply an archive of images that you can use to give your protagonist a face.
This is a great reference blog for world building. Posts include information about dressing your characters for cold weather (complete with pictures and detailed descriptions about fabric), images of unusual places around the world that you can use to inspire your locations, and adjective lists you can use when describing character traits like speech.
This Tumblr is essentially an amalgamation of every possible resource you could use to write. Their posts range from basic writing tips on subjects like genre and character building, to ridiculously specific resource lists detailing everything from how a character can die to possible mental disorders. They even have icongraphics for things like military hand signals and ways to say “achoo!” in fifty different languages. If your character has a taste for something peculiar then you should be able to find out more about it here.
In addition to their thoughtful writing prompts, or Writer’s Blocks as they call them, you should also check out their Writer’s Toolbox page for a fantastic list of resources. Their posts are categorised according to the following subjects: plot, character, inspiration, formatting, language, style, industry, editing, resources, genre, planning, non-fiction, setting, poetry and theme. It’s a very sleek blog devoted to educating writers.
If you want to just immerse yourself in book appreciation for an hour, then this is the place to do it. Book Mania is curated by some passionate bibliophiles, from its reviews and interesting facts to its literary extracts. A highlight for me is the admired libraries section, where there are pictures of some of the most beautiful libraries in the world.
Sometimes you just need to pick yourself up with a quote about writing. Or you want to read something beautiful from an author you really admire. Quotes here are updated every three days.
Did we miss your favourite Tumblr about writing? Let us know in the comments!
Are there some fabulous Aussie books you’ve read this year that just haven’t received their dues? Tonight, the Wheeler Centre will be hosting Totally Underrated: a presentation of the Most Underrated Book Award 2013, a free event celebrating some of these unsung books from small and independent Aussie publishers.
How fares the NaNoWriMoing? If you’re flagging – or on a roll – and you just want to be around other writers, then there’s a city write-in tonight at Network Public Bar and Pizzeria at Southern Cross Station from 9pm, and one on Saturday November 16 at Richmond Library from 10am.
We’re incredibly pleased to announce that The Flashback Edition is now ready to download on our literary journal page.
Escape the gloomy weather with our eclectic collection of short stories, poems, essays and artwork, because if Instagram has taught us anything, it’s that no one can resist a good retro theme.
We would like to thank everyone who made this edition possible – our contributors, our editors, and the artists and organisations who gave us shout outs on Facebook and Twitter. Enjoy, and let us know what you think!
The Flashback Edition features…
#132 – Melanie and the Baby-Sitters Club by Melanie Saward
Millennium by Ira McGuire
Cimetière des Innocents by Zenobia Frost
Cagney’s Understudy by Julie Demoff-Larson
Beat, Rhythm and Jazz by Nicola Cayless
Blackall’s Point by Zenobia Frost
The Statesman by Lena Smoot
On Yen by Stefan Schulz
Where The Heart Lies by Chris Rowley
When by Bronwen Manger
Hard Water by Rebecca Dempsey
Semaine by Nicola Cayless
Friday Night by Esther Levy-Fenner
A Soldier’s Return by Linda M Crate
Lillian by Amelia Jane Nierenberg
Want free champers, a shiny new book and the opportunity to witness a bunch of exam-free uni students cutting loose on the dancefloor? Visible Ink will be launching its 25th edition tonight at Bella Union bar on Lygon Street. Part book launch, part end of year celebration for RMIT’s Professional Writing and Editing crew, you are promised free champagne on arrival, at least three author readings and a DJ set later in the night.
Meanwhile, the always enjoyable Abbotsford Convent annual open day is on Sunday November 10. The Australian Writers’ Centre will be hosting 15 minute talks about all things blogging, writing and publishing, while there will be interactive writing activities, art exhibitions, live bands, pop up cafes and food trucks, roving circus performances, and readings from convent writers like Michelle Aung Thin, Maureen McCarthy, Melanie Joosten and Chris Womersley.