Never let it be said that things get boring up here in the attic! This week, I have a light-hearted listicle on what it really means to be a writer, written by my guest, Michele Nugent.
Michele is a former newspaper editor and journalist with 30 years experience, a passionate communicator and listener, and a consumer and teller of stories. She now works as a Media and Communications Officer for a large West Australian local government.
A lover of stories since birth and a reader of them since before kindy, Michele began writing as a youngster, and continues to successfully make a living from her way with words. She has been a regular blogger for several years, broaching subjects as vast as the thrust and challenges of solo parenting teenage daughters, her distaste for personalised number plates (even though she has one herself), and the travesty of the cosmetic industry’s campaign to guilt women into giving their private parts the Mona Lisa smile treatment.
In her snatches of spare time, Michele has completed her first manuscript – a 52,000-word coming of age novel set in the Pilbara, for adults young and old. She is also one of 24 contributors to the Serenity Press anthology ‘Writing the Dream‘.
You can find Michele at her blog: olsolomeoh.wordpress.com
What it means to be a writer
- Accepting that when you need words to really matter, your strength is in the written, not the spoken, form.
I love a chat, can waffle on with girlfriends for hours about important subjects (shoes, children, cake and love) close to my heart, and hold my own in a professional setting where I’m secure in my knowledge base—unless it’s societal small talk, then I get antsy and introverted, praying wine will relax the mood.
But if I have to say something really personal or heartfelt to someone who means an awful lot to me, I agonise over the right words. My mind goes blank. Everything I could say sounds so twee, so I stay stum, not wanting to cheapen the moment.
If only I had pen and paper the words would flow! The right ones would metastasize from my brain through my fingers and onto the page, eloquently stating exactly how my heart feels. Sitting up at the table with writing condiments can severely interrupt proceedings…so I resort to sympathetic noises and clumsy overtures. Sorry everyone.
- You read every sign, notice or word, including graffiti tags.
It’s maddening! Sometimes it’d be nice if my brain could shut down even half way, but if there is a member of the Roman alphabet, a word, a sentence or a paragraph anywhere within my peripheral vision, I have to read it! Even when I already know what it says. Aaaghghghghghghg.
- Knowing the jumble of words in your brain eventually has to come out.
There’s no point just thinking when you are a writer, it’s never enough. Like a build-up of molten lava in a rumbling volcano, the words must spew forth, creating new landscapes, microcosms and weather patterns.
Ideally these words should not destroy everything in their path…hence the importance of daily journal and writing exercises.
- You always have to write the message in combined birthday cards for family and friends.
Your nearest and dearest become lazy in this department, knowing you can whip up a few meaningful words in no time. It doesn’t mean we always want to though. Sometimes it would be nice for me not to have to read out the message because the recipient can’t decipher my doctor’s writing.
- There will always be a pile of reading material waiting to be devoured.
Multiple book cases, magazine racks, piles, boxes and artfully stacked stashes of must-read items gather dust and good intentions in my home. It’s partly a desire to know everything, which is bizarre in itself, because I certainly can’t remember everything I read!!!
- Like any mechanic with a neglected car, your personal written correspondence leaves a lot to be desired.
It’s quite cruel really. My letters and emails to friends and family are pitiful – short, sporadic, boring, obligatory and underwhelming. Like a mechanic’s car, it simply gets me and the reader from A to B, never to Z via the scenic f, j or q route. It’s a bit dirty, sloppy and grimy, needs a major service or a long run, or both. I beg your forgiveness and promise to send a Christmas card this year!
- We read books and become convinced we can write ‘just like that’, only to be disappointed.
Alas, when it’s time to come up with the goods, the reality is very different, and the struggle very real. We then feel talentless and fraudulent.
As we endeavour to paint a picture with words, creating layers and scapes for our readers to wrap themselves in, we also unpick our own abilities, unfavourably comparing ourselves to others.
Sometimes it’s hard to remember our stories are unique and, by their very nature, should not be compared.
- The wrong pen can put you in a bad mood.
If the nib does not make my scrawl look at least artistic, allowing me to effortlessly transfer thoughts to paper, like Dumbledore and his Pensieve, so begins the feverish search for a pen that will!
My preference of late has been a black Bic Click ball pen, but it has previously been a fine-nibbed black pen only available at Balinese convenience stores. I bought 12 and, distressingly, have used or lost them all.
I had a long, successful relationship with the blue Bic Pilot G-2 and the egalitarian Cristal easyglide, but was searching for something more…retro. A thumbnail dipped in tar is taking things a bit far, though.
- Feeling like I should already have produced something more substantial to leave behind for my kids.
What a stupid ideal. Or is it? I don’t mean a personal memoir or history, I mean a bestselling novel, or a brilliant biography about a really interesting but very ordinary Australian, maybe even a coffee table book incorporating a collection of beautiful photographs showcasing an aspect of our nation or its colourful history.
I suppose the right subject or circumstance hasn’t yet presented itself, maybe I’m still earning my stripes…
- Having an unhealthy distaste for listicles…
Yes, I know that’s what this is! Consider this a cognitive behavioural therapy session to address my inherent snobbery for ‘the list’.
Write something substantial for goodness sake! It’s so annoying that people no longer have the attention span, time or basic desire to read something researched, considered, in-depth and meaningful. Apparently we writers whose work appears in an online feed have two seconds to grab a reader’s attention lest they scroll past our heartfelt efforts.
I know we should be writing to satisfy our own needs, but sometimes we want to communicate an idea with others, too.
I love to read in-depth, juicy people-focused pieces. Am I among a dwindling few?
- STEM is our mortal enemy.
Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics is the new frontier, fuelled by Malcolm Turnbull’s ideas revolution and innovation nation. What? Are writing and the humanities no longer relevant?
Sometimes all this talk of STEM makes me feel like my skills as a writer are no longer appreciated, wanted or needed. What a poorer world it would be if people only knew how to read listicle headlines, unable to decipher a short story, a novella, a poem, a limerick, a damn good contemporary novel or a timeless Shakespeare sonnet.
Here’s a novel idea – ensure all Australian children receive a secure foundation in literacy and numeracy from the moment they are born. In our advanced society, it should be their birthright.
Did any of the items in Michele’s list resonate with readers? I pretty much practice all of these, especially #4—I still have my shoddy doctor’s scrawl, #6—my birthday and Christmas card messages are terribly clichéd, and #8—a good pen always writes better words (it’s a known writerly fact), and they’re even better still if written in a pretty notebook.
As always, if you’d like to be a part of this series, let me know via the Contact page, then pick up your best pen and prettiest notebook, and start writing!
The topic is what writing means to you—or any other writing-related topic—and a length of 600-1000 words seems to suit best. I offer a small gift as a thank you for your time.
If you want some ideas, I have a Q&A I can send, so let me know if you have any questions.
I’m about to send out my second newsletter, and this month I have a couple of giveaways, which I can’t reveal just yet because I’m waiting for them to be delivered …
To be in the running, and to see what I’ve been up to this month, make sure you’ve signed up!
I love a list, especially a comprehensive one like this, Michele. Nothing like a writer’s life to bring out the impulse to collect and itemise the details of our lives, our preferences, our pet hates. It’s wonderful to meet you here.
And it’s wonderful to meet you, Elisabeth ???? Yes, I admit lists are a great management tool for the overflowing brains of writers and their readers. So satisfying to mentally cross things off a list! Thanks for taking the time to comment, Elisabeth. Michele
I can’t function without a list—I remember nothing and do nothing! They’re surrounding me at the moment—stuff I need to write; newsletter contents; my son’s exams; I even have a reading list. My life depends on them! 🙂
The right pen makes a difference. While waiting at Hobart airport recently I was tempted to buy a cool German fountain pen but then reality aka money kicked in.
As for “But if I have to say something really personal or heartfelt to someone who means an awful lot to me, I agonise over the right words. My mind goes blank.” … Yes, yes, yes! It takes AGES!
Don’t you just love reality! And being lost for words at that crucial moment!! Ironically, that is my reality some days ???? Perhaps when we need to ‘speak from the heart’ we should visualise ourselves writing this elusive verbiage with that coveted German fountain pen. Michele
I hate writing in cards I can never think of what to write, and I always make a mistake and have a crossing out! *sigh* 🙂
I have never found you lost for appropriate words, dear Michele — whether verbally expressed or in writing. And those words have meant a great deal to me throughout the many years of our friendship so far. I was delighted to see that your contribution to Lovely Louise’s Writers-in-the-Attic series was quirkily original and thought-provoking — just like you. And you are NOT the only one who wants to read more than click bait! xxx
Oh Maureen, you’ve rendered me humbly wordless. Again. Thank you for the sort of insight only a trusted, long standing bosom friend can give. Put your feet up, you’ve earned it. Michele
I haven’t known Michele anywhere near as long as you, Maureen, but I can’t imagine her saying anything inappropriate, not intentionally. All I’ve ever seen is a super strong woman strongly supporting and encouraging other women, and always with a good and caring intention. And she’s a damn good writer, too!
I enjoyed reading your listicle Michelle. I admit to liking listicles but I also like reading an Alexander Dumas novel. I must also admit that I love pens to the extent that they are all squirrelled away in various hiding places much to the annoyance of my family. My name is Gill and I am a penaholic. Now if only I could be disciplined enough to put them to use.
All in good time, Gill. We cannot rush brilliance! At least when inspiration strikes you know where those pens are. Your reading sounds wide and varied and that shows a discipline many wish they had. I loved your comment. Many thanks for it. Michele
Yes, get thee to a PA meeting! I’ll have to join you—I was always the pen hoarder at work—everyone knew where to find one if theirs was ‘stolen’.
I’ve never read an Alexander Dumas novel, but perhaps I should …
The Count of Monte Cristo kept me engaged for a long time ( a bit of a door-stopper and I’m a slow reader), and what an emotional roller-coaster ride it was too. I thoroughly recommend it.
One year I’m going to just read classics. I really need to—there are so many books people talk about, which I’ve never read. Alas. :/
Now I absolutely know why I can’t stop writing, why I hurt when I can’t write, thanks to Michelle’s wonderful listicle. Thanks for the idea that thinking isn’t enough, and that words are like a build-up of molten lava that have to spill out… You have made my very ordinary Monday into some thing special. Good one, Louise!
Maureen Helen, what delightful things to write about writing. It is a calling, a compulsion. I think if I had classified information wanted by a powerful organisation, banning me from expressing myself through writing would eventually cause me to spill! PS I’m looking forward to choosing your novel for my book club. Michele
Thanks, Maureen, but we have Michele to thank, really. And now we know how to get classified information out of her! Hehe! 🙂
Michele, I loved reading your listicle of what it means to be a writer… number one is most prevalent for me! “Accepting that when you need words to really matter, your strength is in the written, not the spoken, form” has been my way for many years. Thankfully, though, I am now addressing this by being more present… in my feelings, actions, and responses. I continue to learn 🙂 PS: I, too, looove my pen… it must flow with ease!
Hello Leanda Michelle…you sound effortlessly exotic, I love your name ????
I hear you! I am actively trying to be ‘in the moment’ more often, hopefully it will become more natural as I start to slow my brain down to a more manageable speed. I think I can ‘write’ (type) words more quickly than I can think and then speak them in the way that I feel accurately expresses my feelings. But these are excuses! I really like your encouraging advice and I will focus more on less noise and more presence. Thanks Leanda Michelle. Michele
I wonder why it is that some of us find writing easier than speaking? For me, it’s the only place I really feel I can be myself. I feel as if the spotlight’s on me when I’m talking to people. I put it down to my introversion or lack of confidence, and the fact I can edit what I write before I show it to people, whereas you can’t edit the spoken word. Thanks for visiting, Leanda! x
So much of Michele’s guest post this week resonated with me, and it was great to read about your background, Michele now that we are in a book club together. In particular, I share your love of in-depth people-focused articles which are all too infrequent these days. Whenever I find one, I savour every word and it is the articles on unassuming every-day Australians who are achieving great things that grab my attention. They go about their business without fanfare and just get on with it, and without these feature articles, the rest of us would never know about them. And I’m all for a good pen and a beautiful journal to write in although my writing too is like a chicken has scratched across the page. Regardless of what happens in the future with your writing Michele, you have already left a substantial legacy for your children through your professional career, your inclusion in ‘Writing the Dream’ and the completion of your first manuscript. Your words matter.
Sue, thank you for your confident, sincere comments about my writing. Your words have really mattered to me! So often we just bumble along, haphazardly fulfilling our own simple desires, never really knowing if our efforts have resonated meaningfully for someone else. Writing is an activity that leaves us vulnerable, so any positive feedback is a gift. Thanks again. Michele
I hope people’s comments here have shown you that your words are meaningful and have resonated with them, Michele.
And I agree with Sue—you’ve already left a substantial legacy for your children, which doesn’t mean it can’t be added to! My kids are going to be drowning in legacy when I’m gone—good luck to them trying to decipher my journals! 🙂
It’s my dream to be a writer.. however,the art of learning and retaining a brilliant descriptive vocabulary is beyond my aptitude.
Not to worry I thoroughly enjoy reading others exceptional compilation of their highly esteemed rethoric and verse.
I have something in common with many though ,that is pretty paper to write on with an expensive pen which suits my hand . My handwriting improves drastically. Oh and I love to write with purple ink.
Meanwhile,I do know Michelle, its uplifting for me to see how she manages to leave the imprint of her beautiful soul on paper ..
Thanks for visiting, Julie! It’s lovely that you know Michele and I agree, she does leave an imprint of her beautiful soul on paper.
My handwriting improves, too, with an expensive pen and pretty paper—good stationery raises the bar and we can’t let it down!
And if writing is your dream, I say go for it! Writing is about describing what’s happening around you and how it makes you feel, and you don’t need a brilliant descriptive vocabulary for that—in fact, often simple is best. I hope you do follow your dream one day. x