I loved this gorgeously wise post by WA début author, Sharron Booth. I know writers, and readers, will love it too, as we all resonate with the struggles of writing a book and getting published. It’s never straightforward and Sharron’s post, with its truth and honesty and wisdom, will give writers hope and encouragement to keep going.⁠

‘To call something a dream and then commit yourself to running after it is to condemn writing (or whatever your heart-lurching thing is) to the realm of the not-real and the permanently out of reach. It also suggests some perfect world awaits elsewhere, if only you can grasp your dream’s coat-tails.’ 

Sharron Booth was born in Yorkshire, England and has lived most of her life in Perth, Western  Australia. She worked as a professional writer for many years and has a PhD in Creative Writing. Her first novel, The Silence of Water, was shortlisted for the 2020 City of Fremantle Hungerford Award and was published by Fremantle Press in May 2022. 

You can find Sharron on her website, Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn, and you can buy a copy of her book, The Silence of Water, from Fremantle Press and all good bookstores.

The Myth of ‘Follow Your Dream’

One rainy July evening in the mid-90s I sat in a grey room in Edith Cowan University’s Mt Lawley campus: the first class of my writing degree. I’m sure I felt self-conscious in my corporate clothes – I’d rushed to class from work. 

While some of the details have gone the way of my black double-breasted maxi coat, the important bits are clear. I was in that classroom because I’d seen Tim Winton on the news being interviewed in front of floor-to-ceiling bookshelves. Watching him, I experienced what I can only describe as a painful lurching of the heart.

See that? a voice seemed to be saying. Do that. 

You again, I probably said, but this was the first time I didn’t press delete-and-block on my subconscious. 

I’ve been reflecting on that moment, and a few others like it, since the publication of my first novel, The Silence of Water. Readers have asked me loads of thoughtful questions about the book: about Western Australia’s convicts, our silenced colonial women, and how I grappled with writing the character of a troubled, secretive man. 

But the most common question I’ve been asked is: Did you always know you wanted to be a writer? 

Like many authors, from an early age I was sure I wanted to write. (Let’s ignore my first ambition to be Suzi Quatro). I made up stories about people I saw at the shops. My school friends turned up as characters in assignments. Mum and Dad bought me a second-hand Olympia manual portable typewriter and I started tapping out blue-inked mini-books. 

Soon enough, the world weighed in. ‘You’re too smart for the humanities,’ said someone senior at my high school. 

‘You want to be a writer? Seriously? You’re either arrogant or stupid,’  chorused western capitalism. 

I heat-shrank my ambition into something that would pay and landed my first job in advertising. It included an electric typewriter and I tapped out ads for things nobody needed. I practised writing blockbuster romances on company time and everyone thought I was busy. 

One day on the way back from lunch I felt a heavy pain in my chest. I sat down at a bus-stop, doubled over, until it passed. As I got my breath back, I stared down Hay Street at the city and it happened. 

What are you doing? Something hissed into my ear, into my very being. What are you doing? Get out! 

Did I listen? Of course not. It would be a few more years until the Tim Winton-bookshelves incident. 

A lurching of the heart. In my experience, they happen when I need a gigantic course correction but the captain’s on the lido deck in a conga line instead of up front steering the ship. 

Let’s talk about “following your dream”. To call something a dream and then commit yourself to running after it is to condemn writing (or whatever your heart-lurching thing is) to the realm of the not-real and the permanently out of reach. It also suggests some perfect world awaits elsewhere, if only you can grasp your dream’s coat-tails. 

I was fortunate to be awarded a scholarship to write The Silence of Water as part of my PhD. A dream come true, right? 

I loved the archival research, but when it came to the writing, I froze. I hadn’t a clue how to write something as big as a novel, least of all one with multiple points of view and timelines, and themes of exile, family secrets and violence.

When I wrote, all the voices of all the haters I’d ever known started up in my head: my old boss from my last copywriting job who used to leave notes on my work telling me how bad it was, and the author who called my first major piece, to my face, a ‘terrible waste of paper.’ 

The slightest criticism from my PhD supervisor confirmed I was a failure and I’d stop writing for weeks. (I’d ask you not to tell her but I’m guessing she knew.)

No wonder I was tired all the time. No wonder I hated myself as my writing carried the burden of my self-worth. 

And no wonder I made slow progress on my novel. 

Then my life fell apart. My PhD scholarship ran out, I needed a job, my relationship ended and I had some health issues. Nothing to do all day but be alone with my unfinished novel, which by now I loathed. 

Emotionally, I was barely existing. I got through by setting myself a word count. I told myself that a good day would be 500 words. Anything more, a bonus. But I’d be happy with 250. If I only did 100, that would be ok, and 50 – good enough. I didn’t have the headspace to care about the quality. I felt that that if I could write 50 words a day, I’d have a small amount of control over my life. 

Years later, I understood what I’d learned. I’d had no self-belief but, inadvertently, I’d made a structure that worked. After I gave up on my novel and later decided to finish it I knew I would eventually get to the end, regardless of whether or not it was any good.

That’s the rather unglamorous way I ‘followed my dream’. No training montage, no punching the air, no power-ballad soundtrack. It’s also how I’m writing my second novel: 500 words on a good day, 50 good enough, regardless of the emotional forecast. 

I share this for anyone who might be sitting at a bus-stop waiting for the feeling to pass. Forget following your dream. Learn how your instincts talk to you, and listen. Writing could well become a reassuringly ordinary and grounding part of your messy, imperfect, very human life. 


I’m thrilled to offer a copy of Sharron’s book, The Silence of Water, to giveaway.
To enter, simply comment on this blog or any of my social media posts about Sharron’s novel.
The winner will be drawn 12pm (WST) this Thursday, 21st July, and will be chosen randomly. 
International entries are welcome, but we can only post to an Australian address.
Good luck!

ADDENDUM 21.7.22
The winner of the book giveaway is @annafursland_writer2. Congratulations, Annie!