‘…if you are writing without zest, without gusto, without love, without fun, you are only half a writer.’
I’ve had to reinvent myself many times over the years, sometimes in a way of my own choosing, sometimes it was forced upon me. However it happened, these transitions have always evolved into positive change, and they’ve always had a purpose (even if I didn’t know it at the time).
One such change happened at the end of last year, and it was a disorientating and confusing process. I’d been writing nonfiction essays for several years, getting published in paper journals and online, and was even nominated for the Pushcart Prize. I felt I’d hit my stride in a genre I loved, and enjoyed writing a fortnightly blog where I’d try out ideas of subject or form, and then cherry pick what looked interesting to develop into an essay.
The blog and the essays never felt like work. It was playful, and fun, and interesting.
But then it stopped being all those things. And I had no idea why. I pressed on, looking for ideas and trying to find the excitement that usually fuelled my writing days. I was hoping for something to show up that would return me to where I was, and who I thought I was as a writer.
In the end, I gave up and just stopped writing over the Christmas period, and there was something about that break that made me realise that I’d lost my spark because I’d written everything I wanted to write about my own life. I’d experimented, I’d stretched myself, and I’d been learning about myself along the way too. But now, I was done. Finished. The nonfiction essay was no longer my current life. It was my history.
This came as a massive, and scary revelation. What was I going to do, if I wasn’t going to do the thing I was good at? What if I never write anything good again? And what’s the point of me anyway?
While I was letting these big existential questions rummage around in my head trying to find a reassuring answer, I remembered a weird little story idea that I’d written up several months previously. Would doing something completely different help me rediscover my mojo?
So I looked at the weird little idea, and I worked on it over a week or so, and it turned into a weird little short story of speculative fiction. And it was a lot of fun. I mean, a lot of fun. The fun I thought I’d been having with nonfiction was nothing compared to this. It was exhilarating and exciting and unexpected and just plain bonkers. And I felt full of what Ray Bradbury calls, Zest and Gusto.
When it was finished I started having other ideas for speculative fiction, a genre I’ve taught but never really written myself. Yes!, my brain told me, do more of this! More out of your comfort zone. More speculative and crazy ideas. More playtime!
So this is what I’ve been doing over the past few months, and now I’ve also decided to return to blog writing, but this time instead of trying out new material, I want to write about the process itself. I don’t mean technique and craft. I mean all the other stuff that doesn’t often get included in the How-To-Write books.
Things like planting and harvesting ideas, how writers can harness the flow state, how to overcome anxiety, doubt and self-sabotage. How to reinvent yourself and your writing.
I’ve been teaching creative writing for 15 years now, and writing fiction and nonfiction for over 30 years. One thing I’ve learned in those years is that writing is mostly solitary, but learning to write can be a collaborative process, and contributing to the conversation is one way to be a part of this collaborative community. So, please do let me know if you have a question about writing that you’d like answered, or a writing problem that needs a new strategy.
As the first post of my new and reimagined blog, reinvention feels like a fitting subject matter. I’ll aim to post once a fortnight, sometimes with writing exercises and things to try, sometimes answering the questions of others, sometimes examining my own.
Here’s the first…
Recommendation: Get yourself a copy of Zen in the Art of Writing, by Ray Bradbury (preferably from your local independent bookshop). You can tell by the title of his preface — How To Climb The Tree of Life, Throw Rocks At Yourself, And Get Down Again Without Breaking Your Bones Or Your Spirit: A Preface With A Title Not Much Longer Than The Book — that this is a man who enjoys what he does and has a lot of fun while he’s doing it.
And here’s the first…
Something to try: Think of a genre or form of writing that you’ve never written in, but are curious about. Close your eyes and imagine yourself working in this genre, the ideas that will open up to you, the places it could lead you. Imagine these scenes in vivid colours and feel the emotion of doing something new (the fear and the excitement), and when you open your eyes again, let these feelings seep into the rest of your day.
Sometimes, meaningful change and growth begins with imagining that the change is possible.
Email questions or writing problems to firstname.lastname@example.org