WA writer Brigid Lowy is one of those characters you warm to from the outset.
Vulnerable and witty, outspoken and shy, she’s lived a life rich with highs and lows.
In recent years, she’s penned a successful series of popular young adult novels.
Now, Brigid is publishing her first book for adults, Still Life With Teapot, a witty reflective memoir with musings about the journey so far.
Here’s an excerpt:
On Writer’s Block
There are many hypotheses about writer’s block. I won’t go into all of them. I like what Tobias Hill says, though, which is that nine tenths of his writing is really thinking and thinking takes time. Perhaps you are not blocked, you just need to relax and give yourself permission to do your thinking. Jungians suggest the psyche has its own seasons and that fallow times are a necessary part of the creative process. Again this provides a measure of truth. Who knows what is bubbling away inside us, and when it will decide to make its way out of our murky darkness? It takes a measure of faith, however, to live with this ambiguity and trust that the writing will return in its own good time.
My point is this. Either write, or don’t write.
If you are not writing, don’t write. Stop! Fully and completely. Accept the fact that you can’t be bothered, that you would rather watch The Big Bang Theory or go to Ikea. Do this without guilt or punishment. You are not a pasta machine. You’ll only turn out poor quality work if you force yourself onwards, grudging and unwilling. Plus you’ll be miserable. Old or young, we are all on our last cruise, as Robert Louis Stevenson put it, so why make yourself do something you really don’t want to do.
Who’d be a writer, anyway? James Joyce said that each one of us starts out as a poet and then realises it’s too hard. The same can be said about all writing. It’s sedentary, lonely, boring and physically demanding. Additionally, there isn’t any money in it these days, except for a few authors at the top. Book sales are down, advances are rare, print runs are small. Recently I heard publishing referred to as ‘a sunset industry.’
If you have nothing to say, it’s wise to say nothing. Many writers stopped after one or two good books. Some other writers should have. There are those who wrote well in the beginning but whose work got steadily weaker. I was once at a book launch where someone said about the elderly, well-known writer, ‘Lovely fellow, pity about the writing.’
But if you feel you must write, here are my tips.
Write with every ounce of your being. Write as if your hair is on fire. Be the writing. Apply yourself to what Owen Marshall calls ‘the necessary strict toiling with language.’ Don’t wait until tomorrow, next week, after Christmas. There’s no perfect time to write. There’s only now. You want to be a writer. Okay. Stop whingeing about how hard it is. Stop being a lazy bugger. Show up for work everyday and give it everything you’ve got.
Don’t go into bookshops. It will make you feel that every book has already been written. Instead, go to an Italian greengrocer and fondle the tomatoes. Browse in a homewares shop, even though you will never buy a fragrant candle for one hundred dollars and you don’t need another pair of earrings. While away an hour in a cafe that brews good tea. Now go back to your desk and write like stink.
Don’t expect perfection. ‘Just vomit out a first draft,’ as Nora Roberts suggests. It works for her because she’s written 209 romance novels. Write something, anything. Later you can fix it, rearrange it, embroider, polish, perfect. There will be an alarming gap between the vision splendid and the useless mess on the page. However, keep going. Include everything, your impulses, your nervy restlessness, your urgencies, your delights and despairs. This is how a book gets written. You start something with a lot of hope. It goes wrong. You complain to your friends, you eat too much, you wish you’d married someone rich and lived in Mauritius. Keep going. Somehow you will rescue it. If you have to be perfect, if you stop because of that, you are screwed. Even when you don’t know where you are going, go there. Trust that.
Once you have decided to write, avoid email and Facebook. They squander your time greedily, relentlessly. Check them once a day, as briefly as possible. If you are really addicted, you might consider purchasing Freedom, a blocking program that forcibly deactivates wi-fi connections for set periods.
Be very clear about what is it you want to say. Don’t write clever rubbish. If it’s technically brilliant but contains no news from the soul, there’s no point in saying it. Your job is to say things that have not yet been said.
Say no to almost everything people invite you to, or ask you to do. Writing is long, slow patience and it’s necessary to put in the hours. You will feel ruthless and mean and deeply alone but don’t weaken.
Introverts quite like being rigorously anti-social. Extroverts may benefit from going out gallivanting. Trust your own process. If you do say yes, make sure it is a yes worth saying. Don’t hang out with the tedious. Once you have bought yourself time, use it well. There’s no point saying you’re busy then spending the evening tidying your linen cupboard.
Reread your notebooks. Who knows what you will find there? Google Writer’s Block. This will keep you amused for ages. But don’t spend too long doing this. Half hour max. Eat lunch, something healthy like mushrooms on toast and a piece of fruit, then back to work.
You have to be prepared to stay home in baggy, unflattering clothing, restless and edgy. For only, say, a year or two. One needs a high tolerance for frustration and lots of patience. I have never met a writer who had either of those. We are a moody, anxious, neurotic lot who prefer furtive eating, daydreaming, talking on the telephone and generally buggering around. If temporarily stuck, ask yourself if what you are doing is keeping you in energy and flow? If not, why not? Go back to those three reasons, perhaps.
Forget lofty goals. Forget competitions, grants, fame, money, how to get an agent. First you have to write something. That’s all, write something. The other stuff follows later. Just be in your life. Taste a wild storm, a slow day, a slice of papaya. Enjoy yourself. Eat your breakfast, have a shower, then sit down, plain and simple, and write a page or two.
Starfish Photo: Peter Rigby