This week, I put myself in a situation I never thought I’d have the courage to be in – I attended a writing course. I enrolled and paid, took a day off work, then immediately began imagining the myriad of ways I could make a dick of myself. I’ll get writer’s block for the entire day and write nothing. I’ll share my idea for a story and everyone says, ‘That’s nice,’ politely then quickly turns to the next person to divert attention from themselves. I’ll turn up with three pens and none of them will work. Everyone will be dressed cooler than me (the class was in Abbotsford, just off Smith St, so that’s legitimate). And my worst fear, I would spend six hours of the day not saying a thing. They’ll all think I’m thick/disengaged/a snob and not realise that in an unfamiliar group, I sometimes get so intimidated and anxious that I just freeze.
Despite being the recipient of threats and vitriol this entire week for expressing her views on Q&A on Monday our teacher and taskmaster Catherine Deveny was fully engaged and present throughout the day. My class was a group of intelligent, warm, funny people, generous in spirit, who read the same things that I read and have the same fears that I have. I felt at home.
It was always clear why I needed to be there. I wasn’t writing enough. I’m not an aspiring professional writer. I have a job that I love, for an institution I believe in, for a cause that affects Victorians, in a role that makes a difference to people. But I still want to write. I write to develop and share ideas. I write to make people laugh and, importantly, I write to connect with others. Sometimes, I write simply to make sense of the messy clutter that’s inside my head. But often I get an idea and as soon as I start writing, I will talk myself out of doing it. Sometimes, I’ve talked myself out of writing before I’ve even reached the laptop. It’s too common, too boring, too controversial, too personal, too revealing. I don’t even allow the story to develop to those points – I just assume it and stop writing.
I learnt a lot on Thursday. By the end of the day, my brain was hurting from all the learning it did. Firstly, I learnt that I was normal. It’s normal to have 17 negative thoughts for every positive thought. I learnt that perfect is the enemy of good. I learnt that as you’re writing, you can only see as far ahead as the headlights. I’m starting to be more ok with that. I learnt that whatever we write will either a) get published or b) inform the next project. Or another way of putting it: crap isn’t crap, it’s shit which is fertiliser. Or something like that.
Catherine’s advice to me, to overcome my own self-criticism, is to be disciplined. Carry a note with me every day reminding me to write. One hour a day, even if it’s more shit than fertiliser. One hour and ten minutes and I get a Freddo.
Which is why I find myself right now, hung-over on a Saturday morning, in my pyjamas in bed writing instead of stuffing myself with pancakes while streaming the latest episode of Big Brother.
(As well as learning cool sayings involving shit and fertiliser, we did actually do some writing too. Here is the piece I wrote on Thursday which is now published on Catherine’s website.)