Looking Back, Looking Forward

When I was eight my parents decided they wanted to live in the country. In the months afterwards we drove from Melbourne every other weekend to look at houses and farms between Kynton and Castlemaine and across to Daylesford (where we ended up settling on a 20 acre hobby farm).

From the back of my Dad’s grey Peugeot 504 we saw a far bit of the countryside. After a few trips we noticed the sign posts to Spring Hill. No matter where we were, which junction we came to, there was always a sign to Spring Hill. It became the family joke – all roads led to Spring Hill.

When I look back on the last four years, all roads lead to Write Anything. If the fertile area between the Euphrates and Tigris Rivers is said to be the cradle of humanity, then Write Anything is my cradle of creativity; the womb of my writing. It is there I first ventured to share my stories. It is there I met Paul Anderson and a bunch of other talented and crazy folk. It is there I first had the confidence to share my ideas about writing, editing and creativity.

As I spoke about last week, Write Anything is entering a new era.

Today is my first post across there for a few months, and the first belonging to the new era. Rather than being a weekly columnist (Monday was my day for two years) I’m now Deputy Editor (under Paul) and pod editor for four excellent new writers (three who are brand new to me). The post today is not terribly interesting… talking about yourself never is. Writing at midnight also doesn’t lend itself to anything particularly brilliant either.

In honour of the new era, I’m reposting the first ever piece I wrote for Write Anything, in their Say it On Saturday session, in May of 2008. It is a time honoured subject for me (and now forms one of the mini modules in my workshop!)

Tomorrow is  my three year anniversary at at WA and I’ve cued up my first official blog post from there to share tomorrow.

Until then… a little bit of Miss Hisler.

Writer’s Shame

I have finally got around to reading Stephen King’s ‘On Writing: a memoir of the craft’. Not far into it I discovered a rather honest and confronting example of what I call ‘writer’s shame’.

King writes:
“I have spent a good many years … too many, I think – being ashamed about what I write. I kept hearing Miss Hisler asking why I wanted to waste my talent, why I wanted to waste my time, why I wanted to write junk … I think I was forty before I realised that almost every writer of fiction and poetry who has ever published a line has been accused by someone of wasting his or her God-given talent.”

By 1987, when King was forty, he had written 17 novels under his own name, another five under the assumed name of Richard Bachman, three collections of short fiction and had collaborated on a number of film adaptations of his novels. The most financially successful horror writer in history, at the height of his career, was still ashamed of his talent. It would be incomprehensible to believe that such an author could feel this way, if we hadn’t experienced the exact same type of shame and doubt ourselves.

We all have them, a Miss Hisler or perhaps a whole crew of her monster archetype, who hang out in the recesses of our memories, on the periphery of our creativity. They load us up with shame about our writing, dishing out their own versions of ‘how could you?’ that block us.

I ousted my Miss Hisler last year, after working through the section on shame and monsters in The Artists Way. He was a Writer-in-Residence in my first semester of uni – I dont remember his name now. Upon reading my work he told me quite bluntly my writing was naive; I needed to ‘go out and get a life’ – which pretty much devastated any confidence that I had built in my writing through high school. I was 18, impressionable and took his words as gospel. What I heard was that I wasn’t good enough to write – ‘how dare I have the adacity to think I could?’ So much for all the encouragement and support I had received from my teachers and parents.

Only last year did I return to writing, with the passion I had once had, with enough confidence and sass to make my work public – a good 16 years on.

I don’t feel the need to pay homage to my monster’s legacy any more. And good riddance I say. I’ve let go of the notions that I’m not smart enough, good enough, nor worldly enough to write. I have the audacity to write badly sometimes, and feel OK about it. I have the confidence to try new things and experiment with my boundaries. And I’ve reclaimed the thrill – the pure, unadulterated love of being encapsulated in the fiction I create.

We all have our Miss Hislers. Naming them and sharing the damage that they have caused us, goes a long way to healing the festering wounds left in our self confidence and creativity.

Who are your shame monsters? Today is your opportunity to oust them.

What was the shaming charge/s levelled at you? How has it poisoned the way in which you perceive yourself as a writer and your ability create?

Image (c) Jodi Cleghorn, 2011

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3 thoughts on “Looking Back, Looking Forward

  1. I think I’m my own shame monster, really. I was doing a PhD prior to having children, and part of me thinks I should go back to academic writing, get some more letters after my name, instead of feeding my creativity and learning the art of fiction writing. Not because I see no value in what I write, but because I perceive that others see me as a bit of a bludger… using this time to write creatively instead of gaining qualifications to allow me to stop being a bludger ;). I’m still struggling with this one to be honest!

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