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One of the greatest truths and myths about writing is that ‘writers write because they have to'. Recently I saw – what a relief – a writer say in the media that this is nonsense….he writes because he wants to. Mostly what you read, in interviews with writers and the like, is this statement that they ‘must write', that it's some kind of perfect artistic compulsion. I started writing as a child, and knew early in my life the deep pleasure that it can bring to land something down onto a page that didn't exist before, all from your own mind. I never felt compelled; I just wanted to, and it came so easily. I never had any doubt that it was what I did best.
When I went to uni, I took the opportunity to find out how the whole thing worked, getting published, the likelihood of getting a book deal, the trends. For a while I helped out at the Victorian Writers Centre, and took calls from people who were so desperate to have their words out there they'd practically begin reading the manuscript to me, a volunteer, over the phone. Guest speakers from the publishing industry came to our classes, businesslike, friendly, but armed with their grim statistics – the small numbers of each book's run, the tiny, tiny royalties. My writing class was full of heartbreakingly good talent. I graduated, and went to work in the book trade itself for a while. In short, I learnt so much that I stopped writing completely.
After about seven years an unexpected thing occurred; I needed to write again. During busy mornings at my desk at work, short story ideas would just appear in my thoughts. It occurred to me I needed to write a novel (as you do…). My reading habits shifted back to wordier books that made me think hard. And it felt so good that it helped push aside the thoughts that I was wasting my time by trying to do this. The resurgence was so surprising that it galvanized me into making space for it in my life. I started working part-time, even though it terrified me. I began to tell people I was writing a book, even though I felt a bit of a fraud saying so. And I re-learnt how to sit down and do the thing that I did so easily as a child. And this has been the picture for me for the last few years; work part-time, write in between, try and keep on track, try and finish the book whilst writing the odd smaller piece, repeat.
Sometimes people find it strange that I've chosen this least profitable writing route out of all the possibilities…I don't have a contract with a publisher for my novel, and I may never get one, even when the whole thing is written and polished up and its full potential as a story has been brought to the surface. I could have pursued journalism, technical writing, copywriting, and built a career that way. Any writer knows that there are different strands to this gig, and some choose writing that pays over more tenuous things like fiction and poetry. So my greatest piece of advice is that you will probably know what it is you need to do as a writer, if you give yourself a bit of space to think about it. Try not to think about what's likely or even statistically possible. Write because you want to, and because originality never goes out of style. And we've all got that.