What a writer needs is a terrible café.Read More
There is a way of viewing the world that is the writer’s own. Different from those who blithely go through life without pillaging it for characters or plot points and different from those who don’t stick their fingers in any life cracks to see if they can prise out a few moments of writing time. It is a writer’s own dysfunctional, stressful and I guess, ultimately terminal, way of looking at the world.Read More
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.
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.
An idea is a hard thing to quantify. It really is just air after all. Maybe some sound waves. But then - it is also everything. The internet was someone’s idea. So was cloning dinosaurs from blood in mosquitoes. One works – the other doesn’t, and yet somehow I’m pretty sure those two ideas are worth nearly the same amount of money.
The problem with ideas is, that the little puff of air, those mental waves of energy, that ripple in the time-space continuum – it isn’t seen as being worth anything at all. Not until it becomes a cold, hard ride-sharing App. Or a device that keeps your banana in shape in your laptop bag (it’s a thing). Or anything in Skymall. Once it is making money it is seen as valuable – as palpable – as patentable. But when its an idea – its flighty, and soft – and people don’t seem to mind reaching out and taking it for themselves.
This is especially scary for a writer. Because we have many, many ideas. And we love to share them. To air them and shake them out to see if they work. We like to talk about them to see if they are still interesting afterwards. To see if they wear out. To see if people laugh at them. And it takes a very, very (very) long time for them to become concrete money-makers that we can copyright and protect. These ideas are precious to us as Creatives. Like small children that we feed and spend time with. We talk to them, get to know them and when the time is right we share them.
Until you’ve had an idea stolen you can’t understand the horror, disappointment and (to be honest) the depth of self-righteous rage that can overtake you. It was your daydream, your secret conversation with a character in your head. It was your alternate vision for the shopkeeper at your local fruit shop, your re-versioning of the WWII encounter between agents. Your complex, flawed and beautiful character. It came from you. And because it is a puff of air, you risk having it snatched away.
I’ve had poetry taken and re-authored. I’ve shared ideas and had them used in grant-funding applications. I’ve tried out new characters, scenarios and characters and had them appear in other people’s work. And I’ve seen it happen to other creatives. Artists who have no money, but many ideas are taken advantage of by others with nothing but money. Filmmakers who pitch a fresh idea and are rejected, only to see it appear six months later on television. Students and interns who have no power are being scraped down for their fresh ideas – unpaid of course.
And to me - its wrong. To me? This is theft. Grand-theft. Because this isn’t something I just worked hard to pay for – it’s not my car or my credit card you are stealing. This isn't something I can insure. Or something I can even prove existed. This is part of myself – this is my essence you are taking. Pieces of who I am. They are not free. And they not value-less. They are goddamn platinum puffs of air.
There is a consequence to this theft of ideas. It is the shutting up, the closing in and the folding down of the sorts of conversations that change the world. We will simply stop talking. Stop sharing. And this will mean that our ideas won’t expand and be fed. They will not be as they could have been. Or worse – we will start to 'disclaimer' our ideas – “This idea is for anyone with the energy to pursue it.” – “This one is something I’d like to develop myself.” Ergh… and nothing shuts down a creative conversation like rules.
There is also a fairly simple solution. Don’t steal someone’s ideas. Ever.
And if you are deeply enamoured of someone’s brilliant thoughts, tell them. Ask them if you can collaborate. Or ask them if you can use the idea yourself and give them credit for it. Seriously – ask. Ideas-people love that shit. And I’m not saying don’t adapt, or re-imagine, or pastiche, or listen or rework – I’m just saying don’t steal. And I think without much trouble, we can all tell the difference.
Otherwise we’ll all just have to stop talking and hunker down in our mouldy coffee-scented spaces, alone trying out our ideas on the cup full of leaking pens (this works in a pinch – mine is a quite supportive pen cup). And then ideas get stale. And nobody likes a stale idea, they taste like self-importance and pretence. And there’s enough of that going on in politics.
There’s that old saying “everybody’s selling something…” and people say it with a Monty Pythonesque tut and a roll of the eyes and its clearly a bad thing – people can’t just be … they have to try and take your hard earned cash.
I’m going to counter with a new thought I’ve had lately – one that has disrupted my comfortable thinking significantly– everybody should sell something. And sooner, rather than later. We should be making and spruiking our wares when we are young, when we are shy, when we don’t have any idea what we are doing and even when we don’t need the money – because selling something is hard to do. And doing anything that is hard, particularly hard things that are against our own nature… makes us think, act and behave in new and usually highly discomfiting ways.
I never had a business when I was young. At school I made money cleaning people’s houses, minding their pets and kids, working in a store, working in a factory and even transcribing a Doctor’s Dictaphone tapes. I’ve worked hard. But the most I ever sold, were my skills as a worker and I didn’t even do this very well. I got jobs from friends of my parents, from friends of my friends and from neighbours – I never pitched myself, never even wrote a resume until I was twenty-one. I never did “the hard sell.” It was mostly because I was not drawn to the life of the entrepreneur, I was drawn to the life of the artist. I wrote books in my spare time and I loaned out these hand-written monstrosities to my school friends who would kindly read them and write comments in the back. All for free. They didn’t pay me for my melodramatic fantasy tales and I didn’t ask them to. I didn’t even consider asking them to.
After University I was offered a job. After that I was offered several more. I’ve only interviewed for jobs a couple of times and I got all of them. This is not to say I’m some sort exceptional talent – just that I didn’t really venture from my comfort zone. And what I found out recently – when I published a book and had something I suddenly needed to sell – is that I don’t know how to sell myself. Or my product. And this was unbelievably outside my comfort zone. I kept apologising for my own book, a story I loved and was really proud of, because I didn’t know how to own it, push it out there, tell the world about it.
In January we took a long trip across the United States to visit our family. While we were on the Amtrak - (I recommend this train by the way, the insights I had while this old girl rocked back and forth were inspired) – we had a conversation with our sons about what they wanted to learn. Neither of them love school and so we wanted to help them learn things in new ways – ways that they loved. They wanted to run a business. A business that sold something. Something that was good for the planet (bless them).
Finally, after a little exploring and shopping (shopping in the US is DIFFERENT to shopping in Australia where you can only purchase one thing per paycheck or you will end up in debtors prison… in the US, it's fun) they settled on candles. This seemed okay with me – I could Youtube, Etsy and Wikipedia my way into that field. Then they decided that they wanted to put the candles in recycled beer bottles that were cut in half. They had seen someone do this with wine bottles at a market in North Carolina and thought it would be great for all the bottles they see on the side of the road on the way home from school. This was harder, but again – Youtube – and we eventually had a product. (And some glass on the floor. And some wax.)
But then I was out of my depth. We could sell them at a market maybe? Online maybe? My husband, who runs his own production company, is far less terrified of selling something to people, so he immediately took them to local pub, who loved them and asked us to come back when we had a few more. I managed to sell a few more online to a friend who runs a restaurant. And the kids are busy wrapping some in bubble wrap for the ones we’ve sold online. It invigorates them. It makes them brave and proud and more and more fearless every time they sell one.
And this is where I finally get to my point. We should all be selling something. Especially kids. They should be thinking about products and services and ideas and solutions that they can sell and then talking to people about them – convincing them to believe in their ideas. It would set up writers and artists and filmmakers for a far easy road later on when we have to sell our work. It would make people far more confident in selling themselves in job interviews. And people would be far more comfortable with money – I really believe they would. Less afraid of it.
In my desperation to find out more about this whole idea of selling myself and my work I have been to listen to dynamic speakers (Jaki Arthur from JAMPR for one) and read inspiring books. Lisa Messenger’s Daring and Disruptive was so gently and yet powerfully persuasive that I’ve dared to dream of a couple of new ventures for the future that would normally be a long, long way outside my comfort zone. My brain, which is normally something of a lightning storm anyway, can barely keep up with the new plans. It’s invigorating to run a business, even a tiny one with my sons, and my writing has been enhanced by it. Imagine what it will be like when I get something huge started?
So this is what I am saying… sell something. Anything. Buy something wholesale and sell it at markets. Engage with people, talk to them, convince them to buy what you are selling. It will make you feel more alive than you can imagine. And for us writers and artists and poets and filmmakers… we will begin to see that what we create has that same value and we can sell that with passion as well.
- rant over… x