Pic: Skitterphoto / Free to use
‘You may play well or you may play badly; the important thing is that you should play truly’ – Shchepkin via Stanislavsky
I want this newsletter to be more than the click-bait links you find everywhere on the internet, listicles and supposed shortcuts that don’t actually get to the core of what creative writing is, why we do it, whether it matters. I want to go deeper with you here, and I hope we can unlock something greater.
When people ask me how old I was when I started writing, I tell them about how I was a child, encouraged by my Oma and a very special teacher. It was the same year I became a reader. I’d always read books, but when I was nine years old I finally understood what reading was. Listening to Mrs Grant read aloud, I became fully invested in the story. I was afraid, I was excited. I got chills. Oh, I thought – this is what reading is!
I often joke about the detour I took in my teens, when I wanted to be an actor. When I had Stanislavsky’s technique for method acting pasted on the inside of my folder and would look at it every day, because it inspired me, because it made me feel seen. And it linked me to a history and future – of actors transmuting their deepest inner selves, and their observances, into characters.
When I think about it, the desire to act was not a detour at all. As both a writer and editor, my strengths include character and dialogue and getting at the subconscious leanings of the story. As a structural editor I analyse the text and then I try to draw out what the writer may have been wanting to express, and I try to help them give it form.
The thing is, I don’t think I can be fulfilled as a person without doing this.
But this is something I question, often. So I love and need to do it, but is that right? In a moral sense, I mean. It is too easy to say that literature is ‘good’ and worthy, in and of itself. In fact, in pursuing my dreams am I not following an individualistic, capitalistic trajectory? Am I pursuing self-fulfilment over an elevated life of contributing to society, to others? Can the two meet? Recently, the #AuthorsforFireys campaign raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for the fire relief effort. So, sometimes, yes, they can.
In the times we live in, we should ask ourselves these questions. We should not blindly accept that because we desire, badly, to do something, we should. That because it makes us feel complete, we should let it consume us.
So in this newsletter, yes, I will encourage you, and inspire you, and give you tips – my most golden things I have learned in my years in writing and publishing – but I won’t let any of us off the hook, either. It is a privilege to spend time making art, to self-express. And there are many, many voices that are never heard, because of structural oppression (often also leading to self-censorship). And there are many great writers never published because of the whims of the market. Perhaps the question to ask is: would you do this anyway? Would you scribble in a notebook words that no one would ever see? Can we divorce ourselves from the ambition of writing, of acting, of telling stories, and really engage with the creation itself?
My honest answer is, I don’t know. The interrelation of career ambition and personal desire to write, read and be ‘seen’ through words has been long present for me. What I want to do is at least ask questions within the work itself. And I also don’t want anything to be too easy.
May we challenge each other to do very good work, and be authentic, and contribute. And when we are burned out, as I have been, by the machines of consumerism, politics, business, daily life, publishing – by our various pressures – may we take a step back and consider the why.
What I’m reading
I’m completely nerding out over Dreyer’s English: An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style by Benjamin Dreyer. It’s entertaining and educational. I’ve also been going back into my Samuel Beckett collection (the times…), and escaping into space while being confronted by all-too-familiar realities of invasion, devastation and injustice in Claire G. Coleman’s The Old Lie.
What I’m watching
I’ve been hardcore waiting for Picard to start and I was very much into the first episode. A strong set-up and plenty of fan service for people who grew up on TNG like me. I’ve also been watching the second season of Sex Education, almost purely for Gillian Anderson (but seriously, a sweet show with strong characters and it’s very respectful to teen experience). The most recent film I watched was Marriage Story. It was completely absorbing (and upsetting). And I love sad films. Looking forward to the Oscars – that acting thing I mentioned above? Yeah, I’ve always loved watching them.
Opportunity of the month