Reading the bones

If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.”  ~ Stephen King

When I moved to Melbourne this year, I decided there were three things I wanted to do in my new life: start doing yoga, sleep more … and read more.

Now this may come as a surprise, given I’m a writer.  I should clarify. I read and write every day in my job. I read reports and academic articles. I devour online news and blogs. On weekends it’s glossy magazines. But novels? A hard-copy book? Until recently I had literally read one novel since 2005. It was Tuesdays with Morrie and it took me months to get through. Since graduating from university after seven years of part-time study I have struggled with books.

As a teenager, I would have three books on the go at any one time. Enid Blyton, John Steinbeck and C.S. Lewis would sit comfortably together on my bedside table. Fiction was my first true love.

But undertaking a degree killed my love of fiction. All that critical analysis meant I couldn’t escape into fiction anymore. My mind couldn’t stop thinking about semiotics and binary opposition long enough for me to actually enter the story. I gave up. Besides, I had already fallen deeply and passionately in love with non-fiction. Enter journalism. Features. National Geographic. But still, strangely, no books.

But I am pleased to report I recently read three books. Novels. Autobiographies actually. I’d always thought they sounded heavy and boring. But actually they are perfect for me. Non-fiction and a novel. Who knew?

First came Unbearable Lightness by Portia De Rossi. Beautiful, mesmerising. My first just-can’t-put-it-down reading marathon in years. Inspired, I looked around. Enter Mia Freedman. One of my idols. She and Jana Wendt were two reasons I got into journalism. Mia Culpa was fun, playful. Loved it. I decided to read Freedman’s autobiographical second novel Mama Mia. Wow.

One 36-hour reading marathon later, punctuated by tears and laughter, and I’ve not only decided to read more novels – I’ve decided to write one. My love of books is back. Big time. Thank you Mia xxx

The ugly truth about writing

When I embarked on my writing career 15 years ago, I wrote because I felt inspired to tell other people’s stories. But I also thought journalism would be glamorous and fabulous. Oh, how wrong I was.

Writing is not glamorous.

The closest thing to glamour you will feel is the day after deadline – when you’ve slept, had a shower and changed your clothes. Prior to that you will be on a caffeine-fuelled, sleep-deprived, anxiety-loaded, mission to overcome your terror of writing something worthless and missing deadline.

If you don’t like staring at a computer screen for hours agonising over little things called words – I call it pedantic semantics – don’t become a writer.

Writing is not all about inspired brilliance.

You have to learn to write on demand – whether you’re inspired or not. Writer’s block can be debilitating until you learn this skill. Sometimes you just have nothing to say.

And mostly, even when you are inspired, writing is typing. Unfortunately I’m not a typist, so I’m slow – with typos. Constant typos are infuriating, not inspiring. That said, there are moments in the writing process when you will feel euphoric. Or is that just the caffeine high? Enjoy them.

Just because Carrie Bradshaw got $4.50 a word – doesn’t mean you will.

Once I got paid $2 a word. And I mean literally once. I also used to write 2000-word features for $125. That’s about six cents a word. If you freelance for more than 50 cents a word – be grateful. And smug. You’re doing well.

Your article in print will be flawed.

A story is never finished, it is merely abandoned. Funnily enough, at precisely the time of your deadline. So, when you read your story in print, it could be better. Even if you thought it was perfection, you will read it and see flaws. You might even hate it.

My advice – don’t read it. Look at your byline, let your ego have its moment, then turn the page immediately.

Happy writing!