I’m yet to meet today’s writer in the attic, Marie McLean, despite the fact we both live in the same city, we’re both writers and we encounter each other almost daily online. We’re hoping to remedy that soon, but in the meantime I’ll bring you Marie’s beautifully crafted essay on what writing means to her. It’s a really special piece of writing and I’m sure you’ll enjoy reading it.
Marie was born in bred in Perth, but in her late twenties exchanged her career in insurance broking for the expat life. A decade and several relocations later, she found herself back in Perth with her husband and two children, but with lapsed qualifications and a substantial gap in her employment history.
Marie has written in a business sense for most of her adult life, and more recently turned her hand to creative writing, which is now taking over her existence. She is currently working on redrafting her first commercial fiction manuscript and is drawn to stories that explore family relationships. She used to enjoy gardening and renovating areas of her old house, but reading and writing are so much more tempting these days.
What Writing Means to Me
In April this year I celebrated my forty-fifth birthday. I have come to think of it in terms of my forty-fifth edition. Forty-five years of scenes, events and characters that have shaped the current volume. This latest edition is quite different to the prior ones. I know this only too well, having painstakingly reviewed, curated and shelved the entire collection over the past few years.
It’s surprising how dramatically the editions change from year to year. Some have shiny covers and well-thumbed pages filled with happy scenes, and witty dialogue interspersed with colourful photographs. Others are leather-bound, thick and heavy, weighted down with conflict and self-doubt. The ink is smudged with tears, and angry biro marks have ripped through the pages I have desperately tried to erase. Some editions barely exist. There are long-forgotten baby and toddler chapters where few records have been kept. During my teenage years, a reluctance to take notes leaves little on the shelf.
Some editions contain scenes that whilst catastrophic at the time, can finally make me laugh as I think of them in terms of what writing means to me today. Picture a girl in grade four, naïve and eager to be liked, highly susceptible to peer pressure, and already quite skillful with a pen. In a letter to my pen pal I was goaded into writing a short satire of my teacher. It never occurred to me that my pen pal might not appreciate my wit. That particular writing exercise landed my parents and me in the principal’s office and earned me a few lashes of the leather belt back at home.
I didn’t realise back then that writing would eventually offer me the gift of regeneration.
That particular lowlight of my early writing career didn’t hold me back. I continued to receive praise and attention for my writing, winning the odd school competition and consistent top marks on school reports. I was fortunate to have teachers who saw my ability and nurtured it. I didn’t realise back then that writing would eventually offer me the gift of regeneration. Writing was just something that was required of you at school.
I wasn’t a journal keeper, not after having my first attempt at writing a diary around age thirteen laughed at. So my teenage editions are scant. It can be difficult to flick through these years, cringing at the child I could sometimes be. I used to blame myself for behaviours that I now understand were somewhat a reflection of a broken home environment. Although I have gained perspective on the forces that affected me back then, it still upsets me to think I was drawn to write down terrible things about a friend, only to have another friend read it out in front of us at a slumber party. I am grateful that the writer I am today can express these things in words. I lost contact with that friend twenty-five years ago, but I’ve found it difficult to lose the guilt.
The editions of my life where I started work, met my husband and embarked on an expat life are some of my favourite. They’re the ones with the shiny covers, packed with glossy photographs of trips around the world and babies being born. Throughout those years the ability to write kept me intellectually stimulated, but it always seemed to be in the service of others; volunteering for charities and helping out on the school P&C. Beneficial uses of my abilities, but they didn’t truly nurture my soul.
The weighty, leather-bound editions that sit heavy on my shelf are the more recent ones. It’s ironic that the writing path I’m now on was brought about by some very darkly written words. Words that appeared in electronic form when verbal communication broke down. This time they weren’t all written by me. This time I was the recipient of a lot of them, and boy did they change my life forever. I have lost family members and a close friend over words that have been written in recent editions, but through writing I have gained an outlook on life that makes this okay.
Before I knew it, I was writing words all over the place as I tried to make sense of the way things had become.
It’s been a few years now since those dark words first popped into my inbox, but they were the writing prompts for the years that followed. Before I knew it, I was writing words all over the place as I tried to make sense of the way things had become. Slowly, the words began to form narratives as I worked through my issues. Eventually, I re-discovered the enjoyment I used to feel for writing; a deep satisfaction that comes from playing with words, first nurtured by my teachers at school all those years ago. Writing has given me new friends and a wide community of like-minded people. It has helped me regain my confidence and self-belief.
So when asked ‘what does writing mean to you?’ I can honestly say that it has changed my life. It has given me back joy and passion. It’s not something I do for others. It belongs solely to me. It lets me escape into imaginary worlds. It has presented me with an opportunity to fill the next editions with colourful illustrations, interesting characters and bright shiny covers again.
So when asked ‘what does writing mean to you?’ I can honestly say that it has changed my life.
My prior forty-five editions provide a compelling backstory. Without them, the narrative would be less complex, interesting or entertaining. I would probably have reached more of a ‘soggy middle’ rather than a challenging ‘midpoint reversal’ at this stage of my life. I’m looking forward to writing the future editions. You never know, one of them might get published one day.
If, like Marie, you’d like to send me a personal essay for Writers in the Attic, please contact me here. The topic is fairly loose—it can be about anything to do with writing or your writing life or what writing means to you. 600-1000 words is a good length.
I acknowledge the time and effort involved in writing these pieces by sending a small gift as a thank you.
I love reading every essay I receive, so please don’t be frightened to take the plunge!