Working, Writing and Wrecking Ball

wrecking ball

A misleading picture which is only tenuously related to the content of this post.

There have been a few writing competitions due at the end of January, and I’ve been on a bit of a writing bender. I’ve been frantically trying to find 10,000 words. And put them in the right order. I’ve had a ridiculous amount of false starts and second guessing of my abilities, and reading the previous winning entries make me want to curl up like a hedgehog and cry myself to oblivion with soft racking sobs.That’s the problem with writing for competitions rather than writing for the hell of it. With competitions, or with writing for uni, there’s always something at stake, there’s someones tastes to be pandered to, which makes the entire process of putting words down on paper a jittery, nerve wracking one. So I’ve decided, as some sort of attempt at catharsis, I’m going to identify the major excuses I use not to write, and hopefully, actually crawl out of this spiral of self destructive, unproductive writerly agony.

Excuse #1: Mind numbing exhaustion/The Social Media Temptress

Being a working gal doing a 9-5 deal also means I don’t have much time or emotional energy, usually when I get back from work I just want to lie for hours like an upturned turtle watching ‘Wrecking Ball’ parodies (speaking of, this is a rather good one), so mustering up the motivation to do something creative has been painful. Just by chance, I was browsing my bookmarks and I spotted an article called ‘The Habits of Famous Writers’  and gave it a read. It emphasized the importance of discipline and routine, something which I conspicuously lack. Hemingway would be up before dawn to begin writing,  Murakami pretty much turned writing into a gruelling endurance sport, and Grahame Greene set himself a quota of 500 words per day, five days a week.

I, on the other hand, am an extremely last minute, frantic and scattered person. I always tell myself, this is it, no more excuses, I’m going to exercise regularly, I’m going to learn how to cook, I’m going to write every single day, but somehow, scrolling listlessly through my Facebook feed with a trail of drool dribbling down my chin always wins out.

Excuse #2: Backspace/the sass of miniaturized writers that sit on my shoulders like unwelcome specters

Another reason I find myself paralysed and unable to muster a couple of short stories and poems is my complicated relationship with the backspace key. On one hand, it helps me strip down my sentences, tear down my paragraphs and reconstruct my pieces into something vaguely polished. Each word has to earn it’s right to be there. I can condemn the wrong words to a blank oblivion (where do erased words go? I like to imagine they traverse a post apocalyptic wasteland in the company of hulking Hollywood action stars). But on the other hand, my excessive use of the backspace results in filtering and refining to the point where my writing has lost all of its original meaning. That’s why I was pretty excited by my first 70’s typewriter. No backspace! It was absolutely terrifying. I had to constantly remind myself that no-one else was going to be reading the drivel I was writing. I can’t seem to shake the feeling that all the writers I love (Kurt Vonnegut, Sylvia Plath, Junot Diaz, Arundhati Roy etc) are looking over my shoulder and sighing exasperatedly at every piece of clunky writing. It’s a destructive process of self doubt and paralysis, and entirely counterproductive. I have to keep reminding myself to embrace the shitty first draft. 

Excuse #3: Reading as an anti-dote to writing

Its also really tempting to delve into reading as an excuse for not writing. I recently discovered a fantastic second hand bookstore called ‘City Basement Books’ which is two minutes walk from where I work.  They have a really extensive fiction collection, particularly by Australian writers, as well as back editions of some of the famous local quarterly journals, like Meanjin and Going Down Swinging. I’ve become increasingly obsessed with Australian writing and I’ve been attempting to read as many titles as possible, particularly by women writers such as Krissy Kneen, Helen Garner, Cate Kennedy and Anna Goldsworthy. I regret my previous dismissal of Australian writing, I was uninformed and I didn’t realize what a rich literary legacy I was missing out on. I love reading books like ‘The First Stone’ by Helen Garner and ‘The Slap’ by Christos Tsiolkas, because the characters and incidents inhabit a world I’m familiar with. They have coffee at Lygon Street and hang out in Fitzroy, they live in the same cultural landscape. There’s some very exciting (and often experimental) writing happening in this country, and the quarterly journals reflect that. Reading through them are a great springboard for ideas and inspiration. I strongly believe the best writing is underpinned by voracious (but not entirely indiscriminate) reading. However, it’s also tempting to use reading as an excuse not to write- it requires a lot less effort, and I can justify it to myself as a means to improve my writing.

Now that I’m done self diagnosing, I feel compelled to wrestle with the horrors of my short story draft.

After I watch a hedgehog re-enacting ‘Wrecking Ball.’

Then I’ll be ready.