Friday, June 24, 2005

Real writers don't go to parties, so what am I doing here?

I really don’t like going to parties anymore, especially parties filled with people I don’t know. Parties amongst editor friends are fine. But when at a party with strangers there’s always someone in the room who claims to be writing a book. Always. Let me describe a typical scenario. I’m chatting to a friend and all is going well. She tells me about her latest beau and I tell her about my latest hobby, say, bush regeneration. I’m gearing up to the exciting bit where we talk about a horrendous weed that needs to be removed wholesale, roots, leaves and all, when I hear across the room, ‘A writer, oh how wonderful! There’s someone here you just HAVE to meet, she’s an editor, you guys will just love each other!’ And at that stage I think, I hope someone else here is an editor because I just can’t …

‘Jessica. Jessica, how are you?!’ the host, a little tipsy, lunges my way, writer in tow, ‘I have someone here who would love to chat to you about his latest book, darling what was it called again?’

Then I discover that the book doesn’t have a name, and actually it hasn’t yet been written, or if it has it is on scraps of paper and actually, it’s not really a book but a collection of thoughts on all different sorts of things. He then bursts into a rendition of some of those scraps, his thoughts on music, surfing monkeys, and a three-toed sloth by the name of Cheetah. For the next three hours I can expect to be his sole audience and most accommodating listener. Usually by the end of the night the author realises he has been raving at me for several hours and thinks my name is ‘Jane’. He is eternally grateful for my advice (Did I give any?) and would like to contact me to send me his manuscript. ‘Would you like an assessment?’ I ask. ‘No. No,’ he says. He just wants me to keep him in mind if I ever speak to one of my publisher friends.

Real writers can be found at parties, if only you know where to look. Lauren loves to write, and I consider her a writer, even though she hasn’t been published. Often she drifts from one corner to the next, blending into wallpaper; recording a conversation, sketching a scene. When in the first faze of the writing mania she writes on scrap bits of paper, even shop-a-dockets if nothing else is at hand.

But this alone, does not make a writer. True scribes move beyond the first flourish of activity, until sometimes the story takes over. Once a story knocks on my door if I let it in, that’s it, finito. I open the door to tales of adventure, and the window to sanity slams shut. When I get up in the morning the story is there beside me. It follows me through the Coles aisles and into my car. When I slump into bed at night it haunts me until I grumblingly turn on the light and exorcise it onto paper. Stories can infect me until I write everything and anything relevant about the topic, and if I haven’t scrubbed my brain hard enough I just have to keep going, until all the plague seeds fall out. That’s my definition of a writer.

‘Publication’ doesn’t rank highly on my list of what makes a writer. Plenty of books are published nowadays that can’t be described in any pleasant manner. In my experience a writer comes into being after many years of practise, honest soul searching and an openness to opinions and experiences. I can tell, in a first email or phone call, whether a person is a writer or not. If they listen, if they are really interested, not about me, or what I do, but if they are engaged in life, often that’s a great start. They don’t have to speak English well, nor do they have to have a degree in literature. All they need is perseverance and the courage to speak their truth. If you want to be a writer I wish you determination and guts, because luck may come into publishing, but not into good writing, not in my opinion. So see you on Saturday night. I’ll be the girl in the corner, the one with the dark circles under her eyes.


Blogger joanie said...

Interesting insight Jess, and what a funny night! You know I'm so proud of you and your passions for writing!

4:28 pm  

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