I have the extremely talented Eliza Henry-Jones in the attic with me today. Eliza is on the eve of launching her second novel, Ache.
I first heard of Eliza in an interview with Natasha Lester in 2015, just after her first novel ‘In the Quiet’ was published. I remember being struck by Eliza’s dedication and perseverance—prior to ‘In the Quiet’ being accepted by Harper-Collins, she’d written ten novel length manuscripts and tried unsuccessfully to publish five. Yet, Eliza persisted until finally she met success. And what success it was:
Eliza is a writer based in the Yarra Valley of Victoria. Her debut novel “In the Quiet” was published as part of a three-book deal with Harper Collins, Australia. In the Quiet was shortlisted for the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards, the Readings Prize for New Australian Fiction and longlisted for the ABIA and Indie Book Awards. She has worked for years with families in the drug and alcohol sector and has qualifications in grief, loss and trauma counseling and psychology. Her work has appeared in The Guardian, The Big Issue, Daily Life, Southerly, Island, Seizure, LiNQ and many other places.
Eliza can be found on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
You can buy ‘In the Quiet’ and pre-order ‘Ache’ here.
Discovering How I Write
I tied myself into knots trying to emulate other writers. I pushed myself to write in ways that did not come naturally. It took me years to trust myself.
Everyone writes differently. Some people plot each chapter carefully, others find out their story as they go – as surprised as their readers will one day be at the strange turns the story takes, the characters who appear and the voices that speak most loudly.
When I was still unsure of whether I was writing the right way, I listened gravely to more experienced writers. I scribbled down notes and later sat in bed, studying them as though they were something that needed to be unlocked. I tried to write just they way they wrote, with carefully plotted chapters and in-depth character profiles. With hours of research and reading the whole book out to myself, to check for flow. I used post-it notes. I edited too much and too little as I went along.
Some people have writing rituals that must be adhered too – a walk beforehand, a certain song playing, a certain time of the day. Others scribble scenes onto the backs of receipts while they wait for their children to bolt out the school gates. And still others get up at five in the morning to carve out an hour or two of focused time with their keyboard or their pen and paper.
Some people will sit at their desks for a certain length of time, even if they only churn out fifty words. Other people count their productivity by words alone, or perhaps by scenes. By how many pages they re-read before adding another paragraph.
Some people cast their drafts out far and wide, relishing fresh eyes, fresh thoughts. Some people write with writing groups and other people write alone. Other people prefer to keep their story secret—something delicate and precious until it gains weight and strength, becomes something strong enough to stand up on its own.
Some people write in an obsessive flurry—churning out thousands of words in a sitting and editing later. Other people agonise over single words—producing beautiful, polished first drafts. Mine resemble newspapers that have been torn into little pieces, little bits kept for the next draft but most of it cast away.
Some people write from an idea—maybe a news article or a story they’ve heard over a cup of tea. Others write from a place—a place that haunted or fascinated them. A place they know as intimately as the scars and freckles of their own body. Other people talk about a character strolling into their head with a story ready to tell and they take it from there.
For some people writing is a profession; for others it’s something spiritual, something healing. Perhaps it’s an escape, a validation, an exploration—a way of having a voice. Perhaps it’s all of these things.
I tied myself into knots trying to emulate these other writers. I pushed myself to write in ways that did not come naturally. It took me years to trust myself enough to write the way that was easiest. For me, planning and plotting is extremely difficult so I tend to just see where the story takes me. While I write everyday, I have to rotate between different projects—giving each story a chance to simmer while I work on something else. While being really mindful of grammatical technicalities empowers some writers, I find it immobilizing and prefer to push all that away until it’s time to edit. I try not to get bogged down in details—sometimes I won’t even know what colour my character’s hair is.
There is immense value in hearing how others work but ultimately it is an individual process, one you must trust yourself to slowly uncover so that your writing time is productive, but also something enjoyable.
If you’d like to contribute a personal essay for Writers in the Attic, please contact me here. The topic is fairly broad—anything to do with writing, 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!
Thank you Eliza for sharing your experience. I read all those tips avidly, too, and am only just starting to (guiltily) do things my way. You’ve made me feel much better!
Huge congratulations on the upcoming release of ‘Ache’ and wishing you ongoing writing joy and success.
Thank you Louise for sharing another writerly piece of wisdom with us! x
Trusting your own voice is the hardest thing about writing, I think. I actually believe there’s value in trying to emulate good writers—it’s a good way to learn and I think you ‘absorb’ it better when you try to copy them. I still write out passages I really like on index cards and sit them beside my computer as I write my own words, in the hope that good passage will influence my writing! 🙂
I value your emphasis on the fact that we each have our own ways of writing, Eliza, and much as we can learn from one another we need to find our own particular methods, styles and reasons to write. It’s lovely to read about your ways here.
Yes, it’s finding that balance between trusting ourselves and learning from those who are better. It’s a fine line …
I recently reviewed Ache for Good Reading magazine, so it was a pleasure to read this glimpse into the writer behind the story. Thanks so much for the insight, Eliza — and thanks so much for the space for writers to tell their personal story, Louise.
This is a timely essay then, Maureen! I’m glad you’re enjoying reading this series! I’ll pop over to read your latest in the Shelfie series, soon! 🙂
Great article Eliza. It does take time to trust the process and trust yourself as a writer. I’ve tried lots of different ways of approaching writing too, but i find my process changes from year to year and story to story. Just have to go with it! Thanks for sharing 🙂
Thanks, Lauren! I’m yet to meet a good writer who trusts themselves. I think writing is one big, long apprenticeship.
Like you, my process changes all the time, too. It depends on the project, the book I’m reading, the latest bit of advice I read, how much time I have, my mood and a million other things. You’re right—we do just have to go with it. Trust the process, as they say.
Thanks for visiting. 🙂