Four talented emerging writers were offered professional guidance and support in developing their work for publication in Westerly, both in print and online. We are now delighted to be able to showcase their work here at the Editor’s Desk, and look forward to their inclusion in our upcoming print issue.
Counsellor: Tell me, Nicole. Why are you here, today?
Nicole David: I’ve been asked to write a reflection piece on being part of Westerly’s 2018 Writers’ Development Program. I’m not sure where to start.
Counsellor: Start at the beginning. Why did you apply for the WDP?
ND: Well, I hoped that having a hard deadline to submit work would put a rocket under me in terms of writing productivity.
ND: For a few weeks, it worked. Then I had a writing accident.
Counsellor: I see. Writing can be dangerous.
ND: I know. I was all fired up after being accepted into the program. I’d been writing at my desk for hours, I was completely immersed. Then I realised it was time for school pick-up. I leapt up from my chair. My left foot had been tucked under my right thigh, which had cut off the circulation from my left knee downwards, and as I landed on the rubbery mass that had previously been my left foot, I realised that a) there was no left foot, b) this was going to hurt, and c) writing is dangerous. I landed badly, put a crack in my malleolus and ruptured my anterior talofibular ligament.
Counsellor: Did you learn anything?
ND: It’s hard to sleep in a moon boot.
Counsellor: Anything writing-related?
ND: When you’re laid up on the couch trying to avoid daytime television, shopping for old manual typewriters on eBay is one way to feel like you’re doing something writing-related while not actually writing.
Counsellor: Anything else?
ND: Slow down. Writing a little each day is better than rending your ankle ligament off the bone.
Counsellor: You said you applied to the program because you wanted to become a more productive writer?
ND: Yes. I was struggling to sit down and write.
Counsellor: But you want to be a writer?
Counsellor: So why not just sit down and write?
ND: So many reasons.
Counsellor: Tell me.
Inner Critic: I’LL TELL YOU!
ND: No, Inner Critic, no! You weren’t invited!
Inner Critic: Since when do I require an invitation? You don’t write because you’re boring. Not at all creative. Talentless, in fact. You have no original or interesting ideas. YAWN. No writing degree. No published work. EVERYONE will hate what you write, and with good reason, because they have taste and you don’t. You write garbage, not even the recyclable kind. Such amateurish manglings of language. It’s a quaint joke that you’d even ATTEMPT to call yourself a writer, and [continues on in background…]
Counsellor: You listen to this?
ND: Quite hard not to.
Counsellor: It stops you from writing?
ND: It used to. I only used to write when I felt like writing. But that didn’t happen very often, with that constant…
Inner Critic: …and let’s not forget that you never finish ANYTHING, don’t have the guts to see it through, because you know you’ll only EMBARRASS yourself if you let anyone see what’s REALLY [continues on in background…]
ND: After my ankle started healing and the painkillers wore off, I tried to write but couldn’t get any momentum. I started to panic about the Westerly deadline. One day I made a list of all the reasons I wasn’t writing. Aside from the internet being Satan’s Distraction, the rest were all fear-based. I did some reading. Spoke to my mentor. Felt less alone. What I call Inner Critic is what Steven Pressfield calls ‘Resistance’, what Natalie Goldberg calls ‘monkey mind’ (24), what Dorothea Brande calls ‘The Slough of Despond’ (42). It’s garden variety self-sabotage and self-doubt. There’s no conquering it. The trick is to turn down the volume and write anyway.
Counsellor: But, how?
ND: Write every day. That’s my new antidote.
Counsellor: Every day?
ND: I did two very different short story writing workshops during the WDP. In one I discovered that Graham Green wrote 500 words every day. In the other, we were encouraged to set a timer and to write for a short period every day. I decided to try it. No matter what, at least 500 words of fiction a day.
Counsellor: What happened?
ND: I did it. I just got on with it, despite Inner Critic shouting that I’ve nothing to write about. It’s scary, sitting down without knowing. It’s an act of trust every time. I’d like to be that author who is struck by an idea and races to get it down. But it’s not until I’m in the middle of writing that something will tug at a sentence and pull its head over the sea of words to quietly observe the landscape, and then dive back under what I’m writing, resurfacing in a roundabout kind of way, starting with little bubbles of breath that break the surface and then froth up as the thing is born with eyes and an agenda and a way of knowing that I am yet to learn, and can only discover by keeping on writing. I have been demoted from writer to secretary many times, taking dictation, nothing but a conduit. Half my mind will say, I have no idea what this is or where it is coming from, but I know I must keep going, while the other is taken over by the thing speaking.
Counsellor: Interesting. Did that last paragraph come out of one of those writing sessions?
ND: Sunday 21 October 2018, 7.19am.
Counsellor: So it’s been about relinquishing control?
ND: I realised I sometimes try so hard that I strangle the life out of things. To be honest, the piece I spent the most time working on during the WDP, I never submitted. Instead, on 22 January, the recollection of a woman in Sydney winning $107 million jumped down my pen in the middle of a writing session and took my story off-road.
Counsellor: You mentioned feeling less alone. What was it like, having a mentor?
ND: I’d never really shared my writing before. Nobody mentions things like bravery or courage when it comes to pressing ‘Send’, but sharing writing is an act of exposure. It felt similar to performing solo on stage––terrifying and exhilarating and they’re all waiting and you have no choice but to sing. But in writing it’s easy to say, ‘I’m not ready. It’s not good enough. I should work at this more before anyone sees it.’ You could do that forever, because nobody’s waiting.
But eventually it felt unbearable and I wanted to let go, another reason I applied for the WDP. At the start, my mentor Richard Rossiter asked me to send him lots of samples of my work. I emailed him ten thousand words’ worth of stories and fragments. He read them and wrote back: ‘There’s a particularity about your writing. Keep going.’ I wondered if he really meant ‘peculiarity’, but I kept going.
Counsellor: So sharing your work with someone was a positive experience?
ND: It was. And later, both Josephine Taylor from Westerly and Richard helped me navigate neuroses over submitting the final piece. Richard said, ‘I do understand anxiety over readers. I don’t think it ever really goes away. Why do we do it?’ Excellent question. I think we do it because a story doesn’t exist without a reader. It’s only half the required apparatus. Admittedly, that didn’t stop me tying myself into knots over the final story submission.
Counsellor: And did you recommit?
ND: It’s Day 63.
Counsellor: Good for you.
Inner Critic: NUMBERS ARE MEANINGLESS WHEN ALL YOU’RE WRITING IS TOTAL BOLLOCKS, YOU KNOW THAT, DON’T YOU?
ND: Hush, sweetheart. Hop back in your newly soundproofed box. I’ve got writing to do.
Counsellor: I can see how far you’ve come. Is there anything else you’d like to share?
ND: When I was researching resistance, I was asked to consider whether I’d say to a child any of the things that my Inner Critic says to me. So now, near my desk, is a photo of myself aged about eight. She has her Fame t-shirt on and the cuffs of her jeans rolled up and two braids and yellow strap-on roller skates over black sneakers. She holds a direct gaze to camera with one hand on her hip. And when Inner Critic gets shouty again, as it inevitably does, I look at the photo and remember who I’m talking to.
Brande, Dorothea. Becoming a Writer. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1934.
Goldberg, Natalie. Writing Down the Bones. Boston: Shambhala Publications Inc., 1986.
Pressfield, Steven. The War of Art. New York: Rugged Land, LLC, 2002.
Nicole David is a writer and musician from Perth with degrees in fine arts and internet studies. She currently works in digital learning and design at Curtin University.