Varuna Writers House is possibly my favourite place to write. It’s writerly history seems to shroud and uplift you as soon as you enter, and it’s location in the Blue Mountains, with majestic views from every window and a national park on the doorstep, further aids the creative flow.
Perhaps best of all are the other writers who share the week with you, other like-minds with whom to discuss writing and the creative process. Maybe I’ve been very lucky with my fellow housemates, but each time I’ve visited I’ve made friendships that have lasted. So over the next few weeks, I’d like to introduce you to some of those fellow writers.
Today, I welcome Claire Varley to the attic.
Claire is the author of two novels The Book of Ordinary People (2018) and The Bit in Between (2015), both published by Pan Macmillan. She works in the prevention of violence against women sector and can hook you up with a few boxes of Digestives if you’ve got a hankering.
Realistic Fortune Cookies for the Discerning Writer
A selection of messages from amidst the crumbs of the writer’s messy desk.
Fortune favours the brave. Fortune cookies favour the hungry.
A significant amount of my writing time is spent deciding what I would like to eat. This time is equally matched by the amount of time it takes to cross-reference this list against what is actually in the pantry.
Once, six or so months ago, I decided for some reason that Digestives would be a good thing to eat and my partner, following my request to purchase some from the shops, returned home with four boxes of said intestinally-palatable delicacies. So this is what I do now – sit in front of my computer, eating Digestives and ruminating.
And while I would be the first to name this activity for what it really is – sweet-mealy procrastination – the reality is that these continual little breaks, these meagre moments of distraction, are actually a key part of my writing ‘process’. Seemingly insurmountable problems give rise to forehead-smackingly obvious solutions the minute I step away from the screen. Complex character dilemmas sort themselves out step-by-step as soon as I turn my mind/stomach to something else. And of course, nothing disrupts writer’s block like a good dense whack of fibre.*
No one loves you. Give up.
I suspect this is the soundtrack to the lives of a great many writers, and entirely unreasonably so. I doubt there are many other professions that equate their trade with their own internal self-worth in quite the same way. Does a mechanic troubled by a complex faulty radiator go home of an evening and cry in the bath about how incapable she is? Does a computer programmer proclaim he is a worthless piece of shit and spend the next two hours jealously scrolling through the social media posts of other more successful computer programmers because he can’t get an algorithm right? So why does a day of crappy writing leave you feeling desolate and self-loathing? Food for thought.**
A cookie believed is a future deceived.
The thing is – and this is probably the most valuable realisation I’ve had over the course of my writing ‘career’ – whenever we focus too much on all the whispers and shouts of advice out there, we usually end up doing ourselves more harm than good.
For a long time, I fixated on finding a set of clear directions bestowed upon me by some enviably successful writer that would usher me along the direct path to literary success. (Which, I am beginning to suspect, is not an actual thing, because whatever you think it looks like, it changes as soon as you get close and you’ll find other reasons to wallow in your own discontent.)
But all this did was tell me what worked for that particular writer and give me a dozen reasons to feel like I was failing. Here’s the thing – every single writer has their own process and their own journey. It’s up to you to work out what that is.
I think you’ve had enough fortune cookies for one sitting, don’t you?
Yes, probably. Digestives, on the other hand…
*Turns out there is virtually no fibre in Digestives. The digestion angle apparently comes from either the whole wheat flour that is thought to be good for gut health or the bicarbonate that acts as an antacid, but both claims are a bit dubious. So, given that my life has turned out to be a lie, maybe let’s call them what they really are – boring biscuits.
**See Digestives discussion earlier.