A few weeks’ ago, I put a call out for essays for Writers in the Attic to a Facebook group for Australian writers. I was a little nervous and had no idea if anyone would want to write for this little attic, but, as always, my fellow writers rose to the occasion. I was overwhelmed by the response—not just in terms the number of submissions, but by the quality and beauty of the stories. (A thank you to you all—your generosity never ceases to amaze me.)
When I first read this week’s essay by Jessica Gately, I had to sit for a few moments afterwards just to savour it. Jess’ short essay beautifully expresses one of the most important reasons why we write, why we delve into our heads and create our beloved fictional characters—because they’re more than characters, they do start to live and they become our friends.
Jess is an avid writer and traveller currently residing in the northern suburbs of Perth, Western Australia. She helps to run a not-for-profit writing group called Underground Writers whose focus is to support emerging Australian writers by reviewing debut novels and publishing their own literary street ‘zine of short stories, flash fiction and poetry, all the while providing feedback on all submissions.
Jess is currently working on a series of projects that merge her love of writing with her love for travel but in her spare time, she loves anime and binge-watching TV series of the DC universe with a plate of cheese and a glass of wine.
What I Enjoy Most About Writing
When I was fourteen I began carrying a small notebook with me everywhere I went. At school, it sat on my desk ready to be filled (I’m sure much to my teachers’ disapproval) as soon as the last question of my worksheets had been answered. Perhaps I should have used that time to study more. To either continue to the next chapter of my workbook or to read something else related. Nevertheless, at fourteen I had decided to write my first novel, and it was about a girl called Tara.
My early drafts of Tara’s story are cringe-worthy. Not just because of the lack of experience in my writing or the numerous faux-pas and clichés, but more so because it became abundantly clear in those early days that I didn’t really know Tara at all. The Tara of my first draft was totally different from the girl I’d come to know by the end of her story. Immediately after I’d finished it, I knew that the girl in my notebook was not the girl in my head. It had taken me writing her story down to realise that. It would be like writing a story about a person after all you’ve done is met at a party and had polite small talk; ‘so what do you do for a living?’, ‘what do you do in your spare time?’.
So I buckled down to re-writing her story. Over and over again. By the time I was nineteen I felt I was finally starting to really know Tara. She was no longer a strange mix of me and what I hoped to be. She now moved of her own accord, acted and reacted with her own quirks. She made decisions that seemed absurd to me and reacted in quiet calm when I would have lost it. Finally, rather than her following me from one situation to the next, I followed her. I’ve heard other authors say this is how you know you’re character is ready.
Tara is too close to me now. She’s been with me for so long that I feel that to share her with the world would be to share such a raw part of my heart. Over the past few years Tara has lived less on the page and more in my mind, sharing with me her dreams, her loves, her fears—some of which I created, most of which I did not.
As I am her shadow when I retreat to my mind and follow her story, she is my shadow when I am in the real world: pushing me forward, pulling me up from a fall, and celebrating with me my feats.
This is the thing I enjoy most about writing. With each new story, I meet so many new people, fictional or not, and delve into their worlds, see the world from their eyes, and come to know them intimately. I hurt when they hurt and laugh when they laugh. I know when they are smiling genuinely and I know when they are wearing a mask. But I don’t just meet these people, I befriend them.
In many ways, I think this is the same reason I enjoy travelling so immensely. The opportunity to explore other cultures, other stories, and other lives has ensnared me. To see the same world from so many different vantage points is to come a step closer to understanding it. Whether I am reading or writing these stories, the end result is the same.
So writing, for me, is just as much about exploring the world as it is about sharing it.
If you’d like to write a piece for Writers in the Attic, please let me know by clicking here. 600-1000 words is a good length, and the topic is ‘Your writing life’ or ‘What writing means to you’, or anything that touches on writing, really.
I’m booked until mid-March, but please send one in as that time will fly and I’d love to post your story.
I acknowledge the time and effort involved in writing these pieces by sending a small gift as a thank you.
If you want to know how I’m going with the structural editing of my novel, I’ve been posting regular updates on my Facebook page, which you can find by clicking the link. If you’d like to see them as I post them, you just have to ‘Like’ my page and they’ll appear in your newsfeed.