Catch 22? – by Elizabeth Calder

no winOnce upon a time, writing came easy and my routine served me flawlessly. It all began with an early night, a pot of tea, and an oversized white men’s shirt. From musty unused notebooks to the luminous blank screen, Saturday mornings were oh-so full of possibility and I found myself on adventures with my heroine through the fantastical land I had created. Inspiration and imagination collaborated seamlessly and my manuscript seemed to complete itself. However, the desire to further my writing skills burned within me and two months later, I had committed to undertaking a Bachelor of Arts, majoring in Creative Writing, at Tabor Adelaide.

 

Recently, after a year of short stories, poetry, and editing my manuscript, I made a date with my second novel. The scene was set, the good night’s sleep, the tea, the shirt. Only this time, the white screen glared at me. Fear washed over me as every word seemed out of place and every sentence lacked its usual melody. It didn’t take long for me to realise that it was my own expectation that was suffocating the inspiration. This was not the general writer’s block I had suffered before. This was different, new, and just plain torturous. The inspiration was just sitting there, waiting to be tapped into, but my brain kept censoring my every move. No, this was no mere writer’s block, this was my first experience of the relentless expectation we, as writers, put on ourselves – the fear of imperfection. Even now, writing this piece, I am analysing every word and trying to maintain the sensitive balance otherwise known as creative non-fiction. Even now, I am re-writing, my finger instinctively reaching for the backspace button…

 

I was haunted by the ‘rules’ of writing on that fateful morning, and it seemed just like the challenges my heroine had faced, situations that warned her to turn back and told her that it was all too hard. Before studying writing, I could summon the editor inside me as and when I needed it. Now, it seemed that it was at the forefront of my mind, filtering every thought, and not allowing anything of substance to pass through. As a result, I wracked my brain for a ‘punchy’ first sentence, to grab my reader’s attention. I sifted through the thesaurus to ensure I used the most effective word for what I meant. I then took care to make sure my dialogue was tagged appropriately and that it was not abusing words like ‘exclaimed’, ‘whimpered’, ‘shouted’ or ‘whispered’. ‘He said’ or ‘she said’ – I reminded myself. All of this took time and I found myself trying to perfect a story that hadn’t even been written.

 

However, my heroine and I have one thing in common – we are both incredibly stubborn. So, I took a deep breath and told myself that I am a writer, and even if what I wrote would never make the final edit, I had to write something. Because being a writer is like having an itch you have to scratch. Writing is not for the faint of heart or for one who wants riches and fame. Writing allows the soul to breathe. Writing creates something outside of yourself that is still a part of you – that’s the real magic. So I forgot the ‘rules’ and wrote a whole chapter. And I was proud of it. Once I was able to push the editor in me aside, I found that my writing had naturally improved and that my initial fears were not actually warranted.

 

I seemed to have an influx of inspiration before studying creative writing, however, I never truly believed in myself, or my writing, until I came to Tabor. It was the missing piece of the equation, to have likeminded people help me on this journey. I had always considered myself to be a novice, a hobby-writer whose stories would never see daylight. But studying creative writing at Tabor changed this for me. One of my most memorable days was when I shared the first chapter of my manuscript in class. Sharing my writing was like baring my soul. Here sat a story I had poured my heart into, and it was about to be analysed by ‘outsiders’. To my relief, it received a mixture of genuine praise and gentle criticism and I left feeling like I had achieved something remarkable. I also recall one afternoon during second semester, when a short story flooded out of me one afternoon, that I sat there, proud of myself, and said – ‘I am actually a writer’. What studying writing has done – apart from making me more cautious – is to provide a new insight into the very best possibilities of the craft, and to show me that those possibilities are (with time and effort) within my grasp, and this has given me permission to think of myself in such lofty terms, as a writer!

 

Fear still lurks around my writing desk on occasion, and the white shirt doesn’t really provide any armor against that. As a result, my routine has changed. Don’t misunderstand me, I still maintain my rituals and I never write without a cup of tea. However, I now take a moment to put my mind at ease. I remind myself that the raw ideas of a first draft are just the beginning and that I should allow the inspiration to flow undisturbed, just like before. Only now, I’m not just writing for my own pleasure. I am writing to share my stories with the world because they are stories worth sharing.

 

Elizabeth Calder

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