Wednesday, 1 October 2014

So, You Write?

by Jeanette O'Hagan



So, you write?

Children’s laughter and the hum of adult conversation swirl around us. The breeze ruffles the scented plants and wafts pungent smells of garlic and lemon balm towards us. The dancing foliage of the gum trees glint in the sunlight. The sky is a brilliant seamless blue. I lean back in the foldup chair, relaxing into this annual tradition. My friend leans forward, showing his teeth in a friendly smile.

‘So, what are you up to these days?’

‘This and that. I’ve almost finished my Masters in creative writing. I working on a number of writing projects.’

‘Ah.’ He strokes his chin. ‘So, what do you write?’

‘I blog a bit, write poetry and I’m writing a YA fantasy series.’

His eyes glaze over. He nods his head. ‘Mmmm… are you published yet?’

I shift in the sagging canvas chair. ‘Ah well. No, not yet. It takes a…’

He leans forward, his voice taking on the weighty tone of a priest. ‘You know, I’ve always thought that everyone should write at least one book.’

I bit my lip.

He means well. He is just trying to make conversation. He, like so many others, just doesn't understand that writing a book takes at least some talent, time (lots of it), passion, resilience and constant learning and refining of the craft. He has no idea how hard it is to claw one’s way out of the slush pile hoping to get one’s work published or how repeated rejections can plunge a writer into a deep pit of despair. 

Sometimes I feel like Wile E. Coyote, continually hitting a brick wall or rock face time and time again, long after most sensible people would have given up the hopeless task of chasing that elusive roadrunner. But then there are the moments of exhilaration as the words flow onto the page, or characters come to life or a story finds its perfect ending. It can be tough but it’s addictive too.

I understand what my friend is trying to say. I do. Everyone has a story worth telling. This resonates with me for, after all, aren’t we all made in God’s image? Aren’t we all precious to him? Even the most unassuming and ordinary person has probably had something exciting happen in her (or his) life. But that doesn’t mean writing well is easy or that anyone could be an author. As Laura Resnick says in her blog:

Realistically, if you're not already writing, the chances that you're ever going to start writing are marginal. Most people never get past just talking about writing.
Additionally, most people who start writing a book never finish it. (And most people who finish writing one whole book... never sell it and never write another.)
The only people who write, who stick with it, and who have a serious chance of becoming professionals are the ones who can't stand not writing.

Of course, publication is not the only goal of writing. And writers can also write poems, short stories, blogs, journal articles, comics, scripts, devotions, even words of encouragement in greeting cards.

I find it easy to get discouraged when years of effort seem to yield few results. Yet I continue to write because I’m passionate about it and I believe God has lead me to this place. I continue to set goals. Yet I also realise I need to hold on to my writing dreams and expectations with an open hand – not clutching tightly but being willing for God to lead me where he wants me to go. For in the end, it’s not about me and my success – it’s about Him and allowing Him to touch and inspire other lives through me.

A ball bounces between us, almost grazing my nose. One of the young boys runs up and retrieves it. 

I take a breath and lean towards my friend and nod. ‘Tell me, if you were to write a book what would it be about?’

He sits back in the chair and rubs his chin. We spend the next several minutes discussing the things he is passionate about.

Doubt
By Jeanette O’Hagan

Standing on the precipice
toes gripping the edge
curling, trying to stick.
Anything
but the airy void.
It’s a long way down
to failure.

Words shifting on the page
blurring and twisting
like Mobius strips.
What seemed brilliant
yesterday
now frays
and drifts away.

A clamour of voices
whisper on the wind,
buffeting up, teasing
naysaying
at the outer silences.
It’s a long way down--
Get a grip.

Take flight
spread your wings
to...
Success
Goals
Self-confidence
Try-again
Infinity
Writer.

Jeanette O’Hagan © 8 January 2014

References

Resnick, L. ‘Twenty Things NOT To Say To A Writer: A Handy Safety Guide, in Laura Resnick, http://www.sff.net/people/laresnick/fun%20stuff/lists%20of%2020.htm#NOTtoSay

21 comments:

  1. Great post. It's so easy to get discouraged, especially when people around you don't understand how much time and effort goes into a book.

    As a children's author, I get asked when I'll write a "real" book (ie a novel for adults)!

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    1. Thanks Melissa :) Ouch. And sometimes its a 'real' book meaning non-fiction rather than fiction, or a book that's not romance or fantasy or YA. I guess we can't fault people for not having the 'insider' knowledge that we have acquired in the process of becoming a writer. As you say, many people don't realize the time and effort that goes into a book whether its for adults, YA or kids but it can be deflating.

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  2. Great post Jenny. I can relate to what you say as I'm still only at the 28 000-word mark of the novel and haven't progressed it for a few weeks now (because I'm up to the stage where I need to do more research - at least that's what I tell myself). It does take a lot of perseverance. Let's keep cheering each other on. I also write a lot of short pieces and I find that getting the odd publication with those helps keep the momentum and encouragement going. It's a long road without any nibbles along the way. I really like your poem too. Will have to catch up again soon and keep spurring each other on :) Take care :)

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    1. Thanks Nola. The poem was one of my MOP efforts :) And I've been putting more effort into short pieces (not just the full length novels) lately. Love to catch up again for coffee and some GF cake :)

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  3. Oh Jeanette, so true...every word. Who of writers everywhere has not experienced the misunderstanding of the general public about the tough road into publishing? Even as you let it be known you are writing a novel, they ask when is it going to be published? Ah, if only WE knew! When I first began I truly believed publishers were just waiting for my book. How naive was I?

    I found an unlikely verse which really helps me in those waiting times. "The God who gives life to the dead calls things that are not as though they were." (Rom. 4:17) So it's His time we're waiting upon, not ours. We just keep writing and honing our craft by faith!

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    1. Hi Rita, That's a lovely verse, thanks for sharing it. It does help to keep the right perspective and, as you say, 'keep writing and honing our craft in faith.' :)

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  4. Thanks, Jeanette, for sharing from your heart in this blog. Yes, I know that conversation you have included well from past years. And even when you ARE a published author (whatever that means these days!), the conversation often continues: 'Oh ... so who is your publisher?' (sometimes said in a slightly disbelieving tone!) Then when I tell them the two different publishers I have had, that's when the glazed look can appear because ... well, after all, I don't say Penguin or Allen and Unwin or Hachette or PanMacmillan or any names of big publishers they know, so ... hmmm.

    All that aside though, I loved the way you turned the conversation to the person asking the questions, Jeanette. And I loved your poem too. Keep going!

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    1. Thanks Jo-Anne. Yes, I'm sure the deflating reactions and questions keep coming whatever stage we along the journey though I think most of the time people don't intend that effect. I've experienced the same sort of mismatch with the questions people ask adoptive parents or kids without realising how insulting and/or invasive some of those questions are. When we lived in Africa people often assumed we lived in a village of mud huts - not a modern city - but the Africans would assume that kangaroos bounded down the main street of Sydney. It's easy to get offended yet perhaps it helps to realize that it's not about us really - and to look to why the person we are talking to is asking that question. Thanks for the encouragement :)

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  5. Hi Jenny,
    Good on you (and good on all of us) for sticking with it. Many of us certainly know what you're talking about. A gentleman whose book I've been reading reminded of another question we often hear. 'Are you still writing?' As he pointed out, others don't tend get asked if they're still fixing cars, seeing patients, cutting hair or whatever. It's as if people assume it's more of a flash in the pan than anything else. Then when we say that indeed we are, the question you mentioned about whether or not we are published comes next :)

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    1. Hi Paula,
      Yes, I guess that's it, that people often assume writing is a hobby at best or an unprofitable indulgence at worst and are waiting for us to come to our senses. But as another author said (on one of the blogs I perused) someone wrote the books people buy and enjoy, they don't appear out of thin air. I'm sure we all could come up with a list of 'you got to laugh or you would cry' type of questions we've fielded. I must say that I'm stoked that you are still writing and hope you continue to do so for a long time yet (no pressure 'grin').

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  6. Writing sure does seem to be a roller coaster ride (and to be honest, it feels like there are more dips than heights).
    Jeanette, your poem at the end is divine.

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    1. It can seem that way at times, Catriona. I'm glad you loved the poem :)

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  7. Great post, Jeanette.

    Ann Lamott tweeted these yesterday which made me chuckle (and give myself a pat on the back having achieved my word goal):

    "So why write, if it's hard, weird, no one cares if you do, or supplies enough praise & respect? Well, what wd you rather do? Falconry?"

    "One thing I liked about writing; such a great feeling when I was done for the day, even if it'd gone poorly. I'd DONE it--stuck it out. Wow."

    Hang in there - keep writing & keep holding onto Jesus.

    Thanks for sharing with us all.

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    1. Thanks Ian. Good plan to take each days success as they come. Thanks for sharing Ann Lamott's bon mots :)

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  8. Hi Jenny, Great post. So true. It's a marathon isn't it, this writing journey. We need faith, resilience, perseverance, and thick skin.

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    1. Thanks Raelene - agreed, it is a marathon or maybe more like a lifelong pilgrimage. Faith, resilience, perseverance and a thick skin go a long way :)

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  9. Poignant words, Jeanette. Thanks for sharing your heart and encouraging us.

    What seemed brilliant
    yesterday
    now frays
    and drifts away.

    Loved these heartbreaking words from your poem. Which writer amongst us would not relate to such an affliction?

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    1. Thanks Dotti. I'm sure most of us would relate to that sad experience - just as well there are some great up-sides to this writing endeavour as well or we would all have given up long ago. :)

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  10. Jeanette, great post! Perseverance is key, and the ability to deflect inappropriate questions. Thanks for sharing your poem with us.

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    1. Thanks Narelle. Deflection is a great way of putting it :)

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  11. Thanks for the post Jeanette. It brought back some memories of difficult conversations about writing but gave me a smile too.

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