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Never let it be said that things get boring up here in the attic! This week, I have a light-hearted listicle on what it really means to be a writer, written by my guest, Michele Nugent. 

Michele is a former newspaper editor and journalist with 30 years experience, a passionate communicator and listener, and a consumer and teller of stories. She now works as a Media and Communications Officer for a large West Australian local government.

A lover of stories since birth and a reader of them since before kindy, Michele began writing as a youngster, and continues to successfully make a living from her way with words. She has been a regular blogger for several years, broaching subjects as vast as the thrust and challenges of solo parenting teenage daughters, her distaste for personalised number plates (even though she has one herself), and the travesty of the cosmetic industry’s campaign to guilt women into giving their private parts the Mona Lisa smile treatment. 

In her snatches of spare time, Michele has completed her first manuscript – a 52,000-word coming of age novel set in the Pilbara, for adults young and old. She is also one of 24 contributors to the Serenity Press anthology ‘Writing the Dream‘. 

You can find Michele at her blog: olsolomeoh.wordpress.com 

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What it means to be a writer 

  1. Accepting that when you need words to really matter, your strength is in the written, not the spoken, form.

I love a chat, can waffle on with girlfriends for hours about important subjects (shoes, children, cake and love) close to my heart, and hold my own in a professional setting where I’m secure in my knowledge base—unless it’s societal small talk, then I get antsy and introverted, praying wine will relax the mood.

But if I have to say something really personal or heartfelt to someone who means an awful lot to me, I agonise over the right words. My mind goes blank. Everything I could say sounds so twee, so I stay stum, not wanting to cheapen the moment.

If only I had pen and paper the words would flow! The right ones would metastasize from my brain through my fingers and onto the page, eloquently stating exactly how my heart feels. Sitting up at the table with writing condiments can severely interrupt proceedings…so I resort to sympathetic noises and clumsy overtures. Sorry everyone.   

  1. You read every sign, notice or word, including graffiti tags.

It’s maddening! Sometimes it’d be nice if my brain could shut down even half way, but if there is a member of the Roman alphabet, a word, a sentence or a paragraph anywhere within my peripheral vision, I have to read it! Even when I already know what it says. Aaaghghghghghghg.

  1. Knowing the jumble of words in your brain eventually has to come out.

There’s no point just thinking when you are a writer, it’s never enough. Like a build-up of molten lava in a rumbling volcano, the words must spew forth, creating new landscapes, microcosms and weather patterns.

Ideally these words should not destroy everything in their path…hence the importance of daily journal and writing exercises.

  1. You always have to write the message in combined birthday cards for family and friends.

Your nearest and dearest become lazy in this department, knowing you can whip up a few meaningful words in no time. It doesn’t mean we always want to though. Sometimes it would be nice for me not to have to read out the message because the recipient can’t decipher my doctor’s writing.

  1. There will always be a pile of reading material waiting to be devoured.

Multiple book cases, magazine racks, piles, boxes and artfully stacked stashes of must-read items gather dust and good intentions in my home. It’s partly a desire to know everything, which is bizarre in itself, because I certainly can’t remember everything I read!!!

  1. Like any mechanic with a neglected car, your personal written correspondence leaves a lot to be desired.

It’s quite cruel really. My letters and emails to friends and family are pitiful – short, sporadic, boring, obligatory and underwhelming. Like a mechanic’s car, it simply gets me and the reader from A to B, never to Z via the scenic f, j or q route. It’s a bit dirty, sloppy and grimy, needs a major service or a long run, or both. I beg your forgiveness and promise to send a Christmas card this year!

  1. We read books and become convinced we can write ‘just like that’, only to be disappointed.

Alas, when it’s time to come up with the goods, the reality is very different, and the struggle very real. We then feel talentless and fraudulent.

As we endeavour to paint a picture with words, creating layers and scapes for our readers to wrap themselves in, we also unpick our own abilities, unfavourably comparing ourselves to others.

Sometimes it’s hard to remember our stories are unique and, by their very nature, should not be compared.

  1. The wrong pen can put you in a bad mood.

If the nib does not make my scrawl look at least artistic, allowing me to effortlessly transfer thoughts to paper, like Dumbledore and his Pensieve, so begins the feverish search for a pen that will!

My preference of late has been a black Bic Click ball pen, but it has previously been a fine-nibbed black pen only available at Balinese convenience stores. I bought 12 and, distressingly, have used or lost them all.

I had a long, successful relationship with the blue Bic Pilot G-2 and the egalitarian Cristal easyglide, but was searching for something more…retro. A thumbnail dipped in tar is taking things a bit far, though.

  1. Feeling like I should already have produced something more substantial to leave behind for my kids.

What a stupid ideal. Or is it? I don’t mean a personal memoir or history, I mean a bestselling novel, or a brilliant biography about a really interesting but very ordinary Australian, maybe even a coffee table book incorporating a collection of beautiful photographs showcasing an aspect of our nation or its colourful history.

I suppose the right subject or circumstance hasn’t yet presented itself, maybe I’m still earning my stripes…

  1. Having an unhealthy distaste for listicles…

Yes, I know that’s what this is! Consider this a cognitive behavioural therapy session to address my inherent snobbery for ‘the list’.

Write something substantial for goodness sake! It’s so annoying that people no longer have the attention span, time or basic desire to read something researched, considered, in-depth and meaningful. Apparently we writers whose work appears in an online feed have two seconds to grab a reader’s attention lest they scroll past our heartfelt efforts.

I know we should be writing to satisfy our own needs, but sometimes we want to communicate an idea with others, too.

I love to read in-depth, juicy people-focused pieces. Am I among a dwindling few?

  1. STEM is our mortal enemy.

Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics is the new frontier, fuelled by Malcolm Turnbull’s ideas revolution and innovation nation. What? Are writing and the humanities no longer relevant?

Sometimes all this talk of STEM makes me feel like my skills as a writer are no longer appreciated, wanted or needed. What a poorer world it would be if people only knew how to read listicle headlines, unable to decipher a short story, a novella, a poem, a limerick, a damn good contemporary novel or a timeless Shakespeare sonnet.

Here’s a novel idea – ensure all Australian children receive a secure foundation in literacy and numeracy from the moment they are born. In our advanced society, it should be their birthright.     

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Did any of the items in Michele’s list resonate with readers? I pretty much practice all of these, especially #4—I still have my shoddy doctor’s scrawl, #6—my birthday and Christmas card messages are terribly clichéd, and #8—a good pen always writes better words (it’s a known writerly fact), and they’re even better still if written in a pretty notebook. 

As always, if you’d like to be a part of this series, let me know via the Contact page, then pick up your best pen and prettiest notebook, and start writing! 

The topic is what writing means to you—or any other writing-related topic—and a length of 600-1000 words seems to suit best. I offer a small gift as a thank you for your time.

If you want some ideas, I have a Q&A I can send, so let me know if you have any questions.

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(Published in the anthology, 'Jukebox', OOTA, 2013.)

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