Today I welcome emerging Western Australian writer, Jodie How. Here’s Jodie’s take on creativity and how, once she’d discarded her romantic notions of being a writer, she found what worked for her:
‘If there’s one thing I’m good at, it’s persistence. I’m the tortoise who takes one slow step at a time until eventually, I cross the finish line.’
Jodie is a Southwest Australian writer, most recently published in the Twisted Tales anthology of 2016. She is a sucker for buying more books than she can read, drinking PG Tips tea and listening to beautiful film scores as she writes.
Writer or Tortoise?
A few years ago, I formed a subconscious, romanticised picture in my mind of what being a writer looked like; long hours of quiet productivity in a remote cabin, surrounded by nature; a wood fire and endless cups of tea; later, glasses of red wine, some pacing back and forth and a few timely lightning strikes of genius inspiration followed by an outrageous word count.
On several occasions, I tried to make this picture a reality but it didn’t feel right, so it never worked. Five years of committed writing has taught me that this picture was pure idealisation. Perhaps for some writers, a picture like this can be reality but for me, it can’t. And that’s okay.
I was disappointed to find I didn’t fit this wonderful image. The mould was a cramped space and every time I tried to fit, I came out injured. I had to force myself to step back and look at my idealised picture as if it were a framed painting on a wall: objectively. I was stumped that my fantasy was not meeting reality. I needed to gain a more accurate understanding of who I was as a writer in order to accept it and use it to my benefit.
To begin with, what I discovered didn’t logically add up: while a love of the English language – and stories – does consume a huge part of my heart, the act of writing can’t occupy the biggest part of my days. I unearthed three significant reasons why not and instead of using these reasons as excuses, I’ve been acknowledging them and working with them to produce results.
That Generalisation Sensation
I’m a renaissance woman. My personality and skill set as a generalist—a ‘Jill of all trades’—means I will always be juggling a few creative balls at once.
I need a few projects on the go to stay engaged with the creative process; without them I grow discouraged and lethargic. It’s not that I can’t stick to a project—I can—but variety is an essential spice in my life.
I’m a deeply curious person, interested in everything. I want to do a range of creative things and I have the skills to satisfactorily do many of them. So even though writing is always front and centre, I also feel the need to be creative in other ways.
If I’m creating a few different things, I stay enthused, focussed and motivated. I get more done this way (even though it is essentially a longer process) than if I concentrate all my efforts on only one project.
It’s taken me a long time to fully accept that I’m wired up as a generalist; I didn’t realise it could be a good thing. It’s also taken me a long time to learn not to beat myself up for what I’m not: a specialist. It’s actually okay not to fit in that box.
I’ve realised that generalism* is counter-culture and maybe this is why I have struggled with it so much in the past. (Many of us were taught from an early age to choose just one area of interest/one strength and specialise.) It’s taken time to change these pro-specialist, indoctrinated thoughts. It’s taken effort to realise that what was once labelled as a weakness in me, can actually be used as a great strength.
Logic dictates that, as a generalist, I won’t be a world-class author because I won’t be putting in the ridiculous amount of hours to get that good. But I know two things: whatever art I produce will be genuine—an expression of my soul—and I’ll have enjoyed the creative journey. I value these two things more than being a prolific or popular author.
Reasons Two and Three
Another reason writing doesn’t clear everything off the table for me is: season of life. I have a young family and a myriad of other priorities; the hours I physically dedicate to writing have to be limited in order to make room for other, equally important things. I’ve had to learn that this is okay—balance in life is a healthy thing—and remind that old bastard, guilt, that it has no right to shadow me.
‘I’ve had to learn that this is okay—balance in life is a healthy thing—and remind that old bastard, guilt, that it has no right to shadow me.’
The third reason why I don’t dedicate all my energy to writing is because I can’t; I don’t have a lot of energy to start with. I live with several chronic illnesses that get in the way of Jodie-the-Ambitious.
I have to carefully consider and delegate my energy to a wide range of important things, so that the small reserves I have at my disposal are not completely depleted—leaving me nothing for simple, necessary tasks. Rest, in a variety of forms, often has to consume a large part of my day. That’s just the way it is.
This delegation of physical and mental resources includes writing, of course, but there are limits I have to work with. I discovered that my body can do a lot of things a little, but not one thing a lot.
One Step at a Time
I know I’ll always be writing, albeit not in huge, drool-worthy chunks of time. Writing is always there—like a never-ending film, screening in the back of my mind—a slow burning passion that I’m committed to for the long haul.
If there’s one thing I’m good at, it’s persistence. I’m the tortoise who takes one slow step at a time until eventually, I cross the finish line.
Writing is More Than Words on Paper
In light of all I’ve said, do I struggle with inadequacy? Yes, big time! Do I doubt I’ll get anywhere with my writing? Yes. Does my unusual ‘writer picture’ mean I’m less dedicated than the writer who spends long hours on their craft? No. And there’s the rub: writing will always be important to me.
I’m not lukewarm about it. I understand now how writing can be a priority, even with limited time and resources available. After all, perfect circumstances (like the remote cabin) are a false promise—they either never arrive or are short-lived.
I incorporate writing into my life, wherever I am, with whatever I have at my disposal. Sometimes that’s in full form with pen and paper or my laptop. Sometimes it’s an email to myself, full of notes and ideas on a story. Sometimes it’s just thinking through a plot or nutting out my characters. It’s not a perfect picture like the cabin in the woods, but it is real and I’ve discovered that real always works best.
‘It’s not a perfect picture like the cabin in the woods, but it is real and I’ve discovered that real always works best.’
*Generalism is not a word but specialism is, so I think ‘general’ is worthy of the ‘ism’.