I find it near impossible to write about things I don’t know. And Pinterest tells me that writing only about what you know makes you a very dull writer indeed. Every month, the Australian Writers’ Centre holds a short story competition, Furious Fiction. They post a set of criteria about which you have to write 500 words or less in 55 hours. I’ve not yet managed to enter anything because my mind goes completely blank at the idea of fiction. I have no creativity beyond that which I have personally experienced. I may be able to exaggerate or sensationalise to an extent but I can’t escape the fundamental truth of a scene. I have no head for fantasy, dialogue, creating characters or fleshing out description. To be fair I have made very few attempts.
I actually don’t even know how to start. I try to remember how I approached this in high school, where creative writing was usually one part of every major English exam. Even the HSC had a creative writing element. And it’s not like I don’t read fiction; Robin Hobb’s fantasy series starting and finishing with the Farseers has been my favourite read from the time I was introduced to them in year eight. But writing a story set on a train with something frozen containing three three-word sentences in a row absolutely eludes me.
And it is so frustrating! Sometimes writing only what you know when that something is self-indulgent, depressive crap is fucking dull. It’s repetitive and smacks of arrogance. Every writer has moments where they cringe when they read back something they wrote but usually sufficient time has passed between the writing and the reading that you can seek solace in the fact you have probably grown and improved as a writer in the interim. But when you inwardly vomit at the words you wrote only last week, something has to change.
Maybe you’re just not very good. Chances are it was the saucy subject matter that propped up what was otherwise some pretty pedestrian language, questionable metaphors and stilted similes. Strip back all the sex, my excessive use of the word “cunt”, the talk of threesomes and anal sex and sex toys and bondage and all you have is some mediocre complaining by a sad woman with mental health issues. Framed that way, it sounds about as interesting as listening to my dog lick herself. It’s a bit icky but you don’t care enough to tell her to stop.
I tried to think outside the box … camel train, train of thought … maybe I’m delivering ice via camel train?
“What is it?”
“Ice by camel.”
“So it is.”
Fanfuckingtastic fiction right there. I’ll need my own feed on Tumblr soon to manage my hard core fan base.
When I think about my writing to date, from the time I left school, it’s all been non-fiction. With the exception of a screenwriting class I did at uni, everything has been essays, reviews, reports. Five years as a journalist hardly exercised my imagination. Five more years in government, writing media releases, reports, strategies, plans, website content, social media posts, newsletters – the most creative I was able to get in most cases was in the graphic design or maybe the occasional pun in a headline. And now uni again, endlessly referencing other people’s non-fictional work. My world has been steeped in facts, sometimes massaged to within an inch of being considered tabloid but based on the events and activities of the real world.
I absolutely long for a creative outlet that is actually creative and not just a regurgitation of my last date or dodgy sexing. But the thought of enrolling in a creative writing course also scares the shit out of me because I know I will freeze. I will stare at my empty screen and wonder why I ever thought I could be a writer in the first place. The fear of this failure scares me even more than the thought of bombing my research and fucking up my dissertation. Uni has come pretty easy, relatively speaking. I have a head for academia so my supervisor tells me as she cajoles me into considering a doctorate. But putting something frozen on a train? That is hard. So very hard. Shut up, cunt.