We don’t all start out as writers. Some of us may not have thought that writing was even an option.
I came late to writing fiction: I was in my forties, thinking of doing an MBA to further my career in telecommunications policy in Geneva, Switzerland. I signed up for one module with the Open University in the UK: Planning and Managing Change and attended a residence course there. At Victoria Station I came across a writing magazine and read it from cover to cover.
Back in Geneva, I thought through all the hours after work it would take to get the MBA, that I’d be 50 by the time I was finished only to have to retire at 60; it wasn’t worth it. I wanted something that I could do till I died. I took out the magazine and began writing a ghost story for a competition. I wrote and wrote, I couldn’t stop. I wanted to know how the story would end. I thought that I now had my answer.
So I stepped out of a career and into my writing life.
The early days, though, were filled with doubt. Did I have the right to write? Could I even regain my mother tongue which was not my mother’s tongue? I spoke French at work, German at home, and conversed in a trilingual mish-mash.
I joined a local writers’ group in Geneva, but the monthly meetings were not enough, so I went online – those were the pre-web days of the early 90s – and I wrote.
I’d get up two hours earlier, go to work, come home, and write till midnight. Stories poured out of me.
I became so good at collecting rejections that I could even read between the lines. Soon they stopped hurting.
In 2007, I took early retirement. I was free to write.
A collection of stories of mine had just been published by IP, an independent press in Australia. And I had a PhD in Creative Writing at UNSW in Sydney to finish; I’d started it in 2004 with the motive of seeking good feedback on my novel, without realizing that I would have to learn how to write academically for the critical component. So the writing time was eaten up by study and redrafting, and readings and promotional work.
By 2009 we’d been hit by the FiCri (financial crisis) and, going on 60, I went back to work. I now have a part-time job in a university research unit, am surrounded by a team the age of my daughter – all under 30. For the first time in my life, I am content in a job I can keep until 65. And I get up two hours earlier again and go to bed after midnight – my writing time.
The good thing about getting older is that I don’t need all that sleep anymore anyway. I don´t need a career. Not even a writing one. I am free to write what and how I please. The odd rejection still comes and I shrug. There’s a whole new world of change out there. Mobile apps for byte-size stories, eBooks, self-publishing, sharing, participating.
Recently, I’ve had stories accepted in a string of charity anthologies where sales proceeds go towards a good cause : 100 Stories for Haiti, 50 Stories for Pakistan, 100 Stories for Queensland and the forthcoming New Sun Rising – Stories for Japan from Books that Help.
I’ve gone back to revising my two novels with the benefit of distance from them. I lead writing workshops here and there. And I write. I write stories with the pressure of submission deadlines I may or may not meet. I set my own deadlines.
I don’t want writing to become my day job, I want writing to be the life I step into when I enter my “souk”, the name I gave to my writing room, as delightful as a bazaar, my very own “room of my own”. (Editor’s note, see more on this in this interview with Darcie Friesen Hossack on her blog What Looks In.)
The new day job not only helps pay the bills but keeps me in touch with a younger generation and a new area of interest; it lets me cross-pollinate and play with words, albeit in an editorial context. It also lets me be greedy for my writing time and makes that time so very valuable again.
How does your day job affect your writing life?
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Category: Australian Women Writers