This week, Emily Paull joins me in the attic.
Emily is a writer, a blogger and a bookseller. In 2014, she was Young Writer in Residence at the KSP Writers Centre in the Perth Hills. Her work has appeared in Trove, METIOR, [Re]Sisters and Shibboleth and other stories, and she was shortlisted for the 2015 John Marsden Award for Young Writers. Her first novel, Between the Sleepers, is a historical boy meets girl love story with a twist, set in Fremantle between 1937 and 1945, for which she is currently seeking representation. She is in the middle of rewriting a second novel.
I’m forever indebted to Emily as she was the first reader of my complete novel back in 2014 when it was still a bit of a tangled mess. She also holds the record for reading it the most number of times—three!
Here’s what she has to say about being a young writer today:
What it’s like to be a writer in your twenties
Once upon a time, when I was seventeen years old and the demands of adulthood had not yet begun to knock the wind out of me on a regular basis, I started a blog. On that blog, I made a promise to myself and my readers that by my twentieth birthday, I would have published a book. Not a journal article, not a short story in a collection, but a real, honest-to-goodness book with pages and a beautiful cover and a little publisher’s logo on the spine that told the world that some publishing house bigwig thought that I was the next big thing.
I truly thought that this was how my life was going to go. I would do my university course, get great marks and right after graduating, I would write the Great Australian Novel (whatever that is). Boy was I disappointed when my twentieth birthday rolled around and I hadn’t managed it yet.
In the five years that have since passed, I’ve learned a lot about writing, and I’ve learned a lot about myself as a writer. I don’t think it would ever be possible for me to write a definitive post about what it’s like to be a writer in your twenties, because every writer I know is different. I know tonnes of writers who get up an hour early every day to write before work. I’ve tried that, and I can’t do it. I prefer to write at night, after work, when my brain is awake and alert and full of the things I’ve seen and thought about all day long. I know other writers who stay up to all hours of the night so that they reach their daily word targets every day. I can do that sometimes. When I’m not studying, it’s a lot easier than when I am. But my point is, all writers in their twenties are very different, as I’m sure all writers in their thirties and forties and fifties are and so on, and so forth. Which is why it’s so lovely to spend time with writers because they never seem to run out of interesting things to tell you about our shared craft.
The biggest hurdle I have come up against as a young writer is the very notion of my own ‘youngness’. This can be multi-directional. Sometimes, it comes from other people; say, for example when you workshop a piece with another writer, and you haven’t quite got the voice or the perspective right. I’ve been told that I haven’t found my writerly voice yet in as many ways as you can think of, or told that writing better will come with age. I’ve been told that I will grow into it, and it just makes me want to put my head through a wall. I know that I can learn anything, if people are only willing to give honest feedback. Yes, I am only twenty-five, but I have written two novels and published numerous short stories. My resume is growing every day. And I don’t believe that writerly voices, like wisdom teeth, are things that grow naturally at a certain point in your maturation.
More than this, however, the idea actually comes from within. It’s that little voice that says “How can anyone ever take you seriously—you’re a little girl.” I sometimes have to remind this little voice of everything that I have achieved, and it’s important that I remember I cannot expect anyone else to take me seriously if I don’t take myself seriously. I spend a lot of time comparing my own achievements to those of others my age, and it’s counterproductive. Slowly, I am learning to channel that energy into my writing instead.
On the days that I think I should just hang up my pen and demote myself from ‘writer’ to ‘person who loves writing’, I look around my room at the hundreds or possibly thousands of books I have amassed and I know that even if I tried, I could not give writing up. Stories are in my blood. I dream in full sentences. I am utterly addicted to the written word.
Emerging writers in Australia are fairly lucky. Even though our publishing market is flooded with new talent, there are many new opportunities to showcase our work and get out there. There are competitions, open mic nights and residencies to apply for, if you can only take that first step and apply.
I am grateful to be a part of the Australian writing community, for I have found myself surrounded by friends of all ages who get it, and who get me. In particular, I am so pleased to have become a part of the Write Nights initiative at FAWWA this year, because even though I am busily finishing my Graduate Diploma in Professional Writing and Publishing, this group keeps me honest and keeps me on track. Sometimes lately, it is the only time I write all fortnight, and that’s okay.
I have my whole lifetime to perfect my first book for publication, and in the meantime I am just going to enjoy time spent with my stories.
If you’d like to write something for this ‘What it means to be a writer’ series, please drop me a line via the Contact page—I’d love to hear from you! I’m booked through September, but that gives you plenty of time to write something and send it in!
Remember that the invitation is open to all writers, published and unpublished, in any genre (fiction, non-fiction, blogging, even those who secretly journal). I love hearing from writers of different ages, genders, experience, and background. I want to know your writing story, told through your eyes—your inspirations and goals, the reasons you write, and the obstacles and battles you face. (If you’d prefer a Q&A, I can send some questions to answer.)
Most posts are 600-1200 words in length, but that’s not set in stone. I’m drawn towards personal writing that digs beyond the superficial, but only write what you are comfortable sharing. Pseudonyms are welcome, too.
I also need a photo, a concise bio, and a link to your website and publications.
If I publish your essay, I’ll send a $20 gift voucher from Booktopia (or Amazon if you’re overseas).