Rant from a Writer: Fear and Loathing at the Keyboard. / by Jim Lounsbury

I was afraid of writing for a long time. Afraid of writing something that wasn’t golden. Afraid of using my time to write. I didn’t want to miss so much life that I had nothing to write about. I was terrified of writing about myself. It might be the thing I know the most about, but it is also very ordinary to me. I was scared of offending people. Scared of boring people. Scared of anyone at all reading anything I had written.

 Image: CreativeCommons - staticflickr.com.

Image: CreativeCommons - staticflickr.com.

Most of all I was scared that I wasn’t a writer. I mean – are you a writer if you haven’t been published? Are you a writer if you only write poetry? Are you a writer if you write health articles for a newspaper? How high-brow and purist does your writing have to be before you are “a writer”. Coming off an international flight one morning I wrote “writer” in the too-small green occupation boxes on my arrival card. It felt like a safe place to call myself that. Of course the customs officer looked at it and said “a writer hey? What have you written?” I can’t imagine the panic would have been any greater had I a condom full of heroine inserted in my rectum. “Ah… I… I’m a freelance writer. I write about travel and kids and health and stuff.” And then I added like the criminal I was, “And I’m writing a novel.” I waited for this man who was an expert in the terrorist bugs that hide in South Pacific crocodile carvings to find me hiding in my own fiction. He didn’t. He smiled and said “Me too! I’m writing a fantasy novel. Goodluck.”I didn’t even consider judging him. I took him at face value. He was a writer. He was writing a novel. Customs was just his job. So why did I feel like I was the fraud?

I’ve always written things. I wrote terrible love stories in paper notebooks and passed them around to my friends in high school. I wrote fantasy stories based on computer games I played on the school’s Commodore 64. I wrote poetry about the boys I liked. I wrote Star Wars fan-fiction (I stand by the fact that my Year 8 prequel was better than George Lucas’). I wrote Gone with the Wind fan fiction. I wrote things on my arms. Later I tattooed those words on my arms. I have three blogs, two of which I don’t even share. There are notebooks everywhere in my house. When I am walking, when I am driving, when I am staring off into space I am thinking of the things I want to write. I know all of this is the same for other writers.

Somehow though, I have come to attach some sort of fiscal responsibility to myself and I know I’m not alone here. I make my living lecturing – therefore I am a lecturer. Who writes. Even now, after I have published a novel and have another on the way – I still feel like a liar unless I admit that I am a lecturer…who writes. Because I’m not making a living out of my writing and I’m certainly not writing all day long. And it wasn’t until recently that I had the very small, and some may say quite mundane, epiphany that I am whatever I feel myself to be. This came about because I birthed an artist. A small boy who unashamedly describes himself to everyone he meets as an artist - who also likes to play Lego. He has never sold a painting (to anyone but me) and he has never had anything hung on a wall of a gallery. But he just knows who he is. One day he might be making single-origin, organic, fair-trade lattes for lawyers and I’m pretty sure he will still tell you he is an artist. Though with that sort of conviction he will probably be living in a gorgeous NY loft apartment with his best mate who is also an artist, still drawing dinosaurs and selling them for millions. And his passport will always say “artist”.

His small, innocent conviction has galvanised this old girl. I’m not sure if it is a Gen Z vs Gen X thing? I was told I could only be something that made money when I grew up. I distinctly remember the moment that I was told there were not enough jobs for Palaeontologists in the world and I should be a history teacher instead. It was Grade 2. Perhaps it is because the world is starting to really understand the value of creativity again (it has been a while since the Renaissance –its definitely time). Perhaps he is just stronger than me. Either way, I’m starting to embrace being a writer. Finally. I am saying no to things so that I have time to write. I am writing instead of reading, writing when I wake up and writing even when I have nothing to say. And I’ve found that in removing the fear of writing something terrible, I have written lots of things. And I’m pretty sure some of them are terrible. I have things saved on my laptop that need to be erased should I die suddenly. Erased. But I did write them. Because I’m a writer.