The Australian Writers’ Centre has a regular newsletter, and this week they ran with a meme based on this quote:
“A professional writer is an amateur who didn’t quit”
— Richard Bach
And they comment:
I particularly love it because it completely destroys one of the biggest and falsest myths in the world of writing. There is no such thing as a magic gate you pass through to become a professional writer. No photo ID card or lanyard with your name on it. You won’t receive a letter from an owl, nor will you regenerate Doctor Who style in a shower of golden sparks.
No. The truth is that we all have it within us to become professional writers – we just need to keep believing and keep writing. The reason so few make it is that so many give up. It’s as much about the head as it is the heart.
I think there’s a lot of truth in that. It holds particular relevance for me, because for 26 years, I did quit writing, something I now very much regret. But I’m not dead yet! And I’ve gone back to writing. This time I’m determined to stick to it.
I don’t know when I began to want to write, but I must have been about 10, I suppose, because each Christmas and birthday after that I badgered my parents to give me something to write stories with (my handwriting was atrocious). One year they bought me a printing kit (with little rubber type you used tweezers to hand-set your text). Another time it was a toy typewriter with a wheel you turned to select the wanted letter before pressing a big lever to print it on a little page of paper. Finally, for my 12th birthday, they bought me a second-hand Olivetti typewriter, and on this I produced my very first novel, a science-fiction drama titled Atlantia. Believe it or not, 55 years later, despite having moved house many, many times, I still possess that manuscript.
I had some success with writing in my early 20s, having several short stories published in professional magazines and anthologies. I was incredibly fortunate to be an attendee at a writer’s workshop run by Ursula K. Le Guin in 1975. And I was commissioned by Cassell Australia to write two short fantasy novels for pre-teens, published in 1976. There were a few short stories published after that, but then various things made it difficult to continue to write. One such thing was that I was working in the creative field in my ‘day job’—initially journalism/PR/publications work, later as a software developer. These kinds of jobs suck up a lot of creative energy. Perhaps this isn’t much of an excuse, but it’s nevertheless true that after writing a well-regarded novelette The Twist of Fate in 1985, which was nominated for the Ditmar Award, I just stopped writing fiction altogether, for 26 years. What a waste of potential writing experience!
Now, however, I am retired and have no such excuse. My renewed writing career started with an incredible burst of creativity in November 2011, when I wrote 30 short stories in 30 days as part of a flash fiction competition run by Becky Raymond. That was an amazing month! Since then, I’ve been continuing to write, but at a much more reasonable pace. I finally managed to complete a 110,000 word novel The Fallen Sun, and am now hard at work on the sequel. Persistence pays off!
So, young writers, don’t be like me. If you can possibly manage it, keep on at your writing despite other demands on your time. Even writing something short each week is better than stopping altogether. Practice makes perfect. Persistence is vital!
And so, a final quote:
The mere habit of writing, of constantly keeping at it, of never giving up, ultimately teaches you how to write.