This week, another Varuna-housemate-now-lifelong-friend* joins me in the attic.
Morna Seres has worked as an actor, actor’s agent and even as a salesperson of virtual reality funerals. She fell into writing and in this post talks about managing the ups and downs of the writing life, the similarities between writing and acting, and why publication is no longer her main goal.
Morna graduated from NIDA in 1984 and worked as an actor in theatre and television, before completing a law degree and working as an agent and starting her own PR company.
After completing a Masters in Human Rights Law, she worked with asylum seekers and helped bring the organisation Human Rights Watch to Australia. She was founding chair between 2014 and 2017.
Since 2017, Morna has concentrated on writing.
I started writing by accident. As in, I was in London launching a funeral product, doing the rounds with investors. I was feeling half-hearted and, although it was a very twenty-first-century idea, I wasn’t sure I wanted to spend the rest of my life working on virtual reality funerals.
Towards the end of my six weeks in London, I was laid low by the flu and housebound to a tiny flat in Maida Vale for ten days. To say it was depressing would be an understatement, but in a funny way I felt relief, freed for a brief moment from what I worried was a morally bankrupt form of mourning.
An insomniac from way back, I woke around two o’clock one morning. What to do? I was tired of reading, tired of my own company and tired of London. I picked up my computer and, as a bit of a lark, wrote a poem. The next day I downloaded Final Draft, a screen-writing programme, and in three days wrote a very bad screenplay. I cried and laughed as I wrote, watched characters fly around inside my head, marvelled at the hours running past me like minutes. But as I re-read my screenplay, it didn’t take me long to realise I was no screenwriter.
But what if I concentrated on prose?
Well, you couldn’t stop me then and, over the next few months, I birthed a shaky first draft of my first novel and made the decision to commit myself wholeheartedly to writing, cyber funerals a thing of the past.
I gave myself two years. If I’m not published within two years, I’ll give it up, I thought. I wrote a second draft and handed it to friends and family. The feedback was encouraging and useful, spurring me to write a third draft. I also started a second novel for which I was awarded an Eleanor Dark Foundation Fellowship, a two-week residency at Varuna – a blissful and nurturing place to write. It all seemed too good to be true.
But the more I offered my writing to the outside world, the more I sensed I was working towards an end result. And for the first time, I felt fear. Fear I wasn’t good enough, fear I would fail and fear I was a fraud. The beautiful little bubble I was in was being knocked around, threatening to leak me and my self-confidence all over the place.
I remembered back to an earlier time in my life. I was an actor for years and, like most actors, lived for the opening night, desperate for audience approval and reviews proving my worth. But what I secretly revelled in was the rehearsal process. I loved arriving each morning not knowing what choices I’d make, allowing myself to be swept up in possibility rather than certainty. One day I might decide my character would wear high heels and, on another, she would trudge around in heavy black boots. Somehow, that little decision would change who she was on some integral level. It was magical. Once the show opened, I was retracing old steps, often bored, doing the job I was paid to do. Fortunately, theatre shows rarely last longer than six weeks.
Since I’ve started writing, I’ve faced criticism and rejections. And it’s hard. But what I try to hold onto most, is how much I enjoy the process; the joy of sitting down every day with my characters, watching plot develop from seemingly nowhere, playing with structure, immersing myself in the world I’ve created. I’ve realised along the way, I’m not doing this because one day I might get published, or sell a million books, or receive glowing reviews. I’m doing this because I love it, because every day, being able to do this is a privilege. For me, the process, the actual doing it, is really what it’s all about.
It’s now three years on and I’m still here.
*I’m not exaggerating when I say we became lifelong friends during our time at Varuna earlier this year. Varuna, the house, has magical writing powers, partly because of its majesty and partly because of its beautiful gardens and partly because its on the doorstep of the Blue Mountains National Park. But it’s also magical in other ways, in that it brings together like-minded people, who can be hard to find out in the big, wide world as most people don’t share your obsession with living in weird, imaginary worlds.