One of my friends, a woman several years younger than me, is mulling over the idea of writing about and sharing her professional life and how it relates to her art. She has some big ideas she believes need to be refined and processed but she’s not sure what approach to take. She’s trying to see the various approaches as an advantage but maybe there are too many of them and she is starting to feel frustrated. This friend, let’s call her ‘Juniper’ is an intelligent, hardworking business woman contemplating entering what is mostly, for her, unchartered territory. She’s understandably finding it hard to let go of her, and others, expectations, her fear of judgement, the possibility of professional censure that might result if she publicly shares her professional life and her artistic endeavours.
While I understand her situation is unique, my initial reaction to her musings is, and forgive the shouting, ‘STOP TALKING ABOUT DOING IT AND DO IT!’ I won’t, of course, say this to her and if I did I would never shout at her. What I want to do is share why my reaction to her musings is so strong.
I can hear my younger self in everything she says. As a young wanna-be, I was terrified of sharing my dreams of being a writer, let alone share anything I wrote. I was tied to a profession that demanded a lot of my time and energy. I was also raising a family and I let these things stop me from satisfying an unrelenting craving to write. In other words, I was as uncertain as my young friend and I waited until I was in my late fifties to commit to my dream. That was in 2004, when I enrolled in a writing course at my local university. I occasionally wonder, as I sit in my writing room working on my short stories or this blog, if I should have stopped at the Honors degree in Creative Writing and not enrolled in a PhD. Don’t get me wrong, I’m proud of the work I did in my thesis, but I am beginning to believe I used the PhD as another way to put off what I really wanted to do, which was to just write.
I’ll be 64 in October. I figure I have ten, maybe fifteen years to have some stories published, maybe my themed set of stories if I work really hard, or even a novel or two. If I look after my health I might have twenty good years. Then again, if I don’t get one piece of work published I am finally doing what I love; just writing.
Because I don’t want Juniper to be calculating those odds in twenty years’ time here’s what else I’d like to tell her:
- Those social media posts you’ve been writing, the ones about wanting to do the work but not sure how to start? Copy them into a word processing file (or a spiral bound notebook) titled ‘My Project’ or whatever you want to call it and label those anxious jottings your first entry.
- Every day for the next two weeks spend (as a minimum!) ten to thirty minutes writing about your project. Write whatever comes into your head, write dot points, phrases, questions, lists, or poems: free write an angry rant; get it all off your chest. Write a letter to your profession. Write a letter to your creative outlet. Write a letter to your fear but whatever you do, don’t stop writing for at least ten minutes. Draw pictures if you wish, but don’t stop until the time is up.
- Don’t read back over those notes, not yet anyway.
- Don’t make excuses. What’s ten minutes? What’s thirty minutes? Write during a coffee break, write between business appointments. Write before you go to sleep, write … you get the picture, Juniper. Just write! If you miss a day don’t give yourself a hard time, get back into it the next day.
- At the end of two weeks you may read what you have written. Do not judge your writing. Do not correct or criticise it, not yet anyway. Try to find the sections that speak to you, make you think, intrigue you, or make you cringe, especially those because they might be more important than you’re willing to allow. Read through each list, false start, crazy insight, poetic passage, symbolic meandering. What are they trying to say to you? Write a reflection; focus on what feels right to you, dig deeper into the fears. Can one main fear become the theme, the core, of the piece? Contrast this fear with the positive things you’ve written. Think about how you can deepen and strengthen your insights and turn them into a story, script or monologue. Write the story. Write the monologue. Write two monologues. Write three scripts.
- Repeat the process, then repeat, then repeat. You’ll get better at it every day. You’ll start to enjoy it, you’ll learn about yourself, your profession, your art, the project you want to work on and you’ll learn about writing. In about six to ten weeks you’ll have something to work with. Maybe it won’t be a first draft but it might be a road map to the first draft. If it is a first draft then correct the spelling errors, put the commas where they ought to go, sharpen up the grammar, let the metaphors and alliteration have full reign and then show what you have to someone: a colleague; your mother; brother; best friend. Hmm, maybe not. Family and friends love you too much to say, ‘This needs work …, I don’t get it …, I’m not sure you’re saying what you want to say … Why did you put it this way, would it sound better if …?’ You need, at this stage, constructive, informed criticism, not praise. Show it to me.
You have, dear Juniper, nothing to lose and everything to gain, but if you don’t start writing today you risk losing everything. I know this because it nearly happened to me.
Your project is worthy and I know you can do it. I also know the crippling fear that accompanies you as you move out of your comfort zone. Every writer experiences it, and every writer, I believe, has done what I just advised you to do. Maybe they’ve done it differently, but each of us have had to stop saying, ‘I want …, I wish …, one day I will …, when I get through this I’ll … when I decide what approach I’ll take … ’, and pick up a pen (or open a file) and start writing. If you really want to share what it feels like to be a professional woman and an artist, you have, like the rest of us, to stop talking about it and do it.
Comment: What would you tell Juniper about getting started? How did you face your fears about creating something for public consumption? Have you tried to combine your professional and artistic/creative interests? What happened?