Soo from Silk Screen Views invited me to write about my journey as a writer. When I began, I quickly discovered I could ramble on for quite some time, meandering over many topics. Here then, in an attempt at tidiness, is the second of three shorter posts I have provided to Silk Screen Views, touching on some aspects of writing in my personal life.
Growing up in one country, and then finding oneself at the age of 12 needing to start again in another country at the bottom of the world can be … bewildering. That bewilderment can stay with you for quite some time. My family migrated to a certain place I will call – being polite –unwelcoming. It wasn’t just a shift between countries; it was an adjustment from a metropolitan city to a slow and sweaty lifestyle of a semi-industrialized country town.
Bear with me. You will see what this disclosure of mine has to do with writing in a moment. I promise.
The youth population of the town tended to regard any long-haired teenagers who were from overseas and into music (let alone writing) in urgent need of bashing up. I had no idea who or what I was supposed to be. It’s not surprising that I spent every waking moment looking back to my old country, trying to imagine what my life should have been like, and emulating those perceptions and images as much as I could. I grew more and more withdrawn all the time. And angrier.
This is no doubt a typical migration experience for many teenagers, and I won’t dwell on it in detail. But why am I telling you about it? Because this is why I began to write in secret. At the heart of this secrecy was a fear of more ridicule and abuse from others. Exposure. I was an adolescent living in a constant state of vulnerability and uncertainty. I was in a family whose other members were busily distracted by their own issues associated with being in a new country. Sadly, my father, the one person in the family who had clearly wanted to migrate, died shortly after settling in the country.
This secrecy or privacy in writing can have significant implications. It can affect your growth as a writer. For me, it’s the reason why I never pursued a writing career with gusto, or found another person, a mentor perhaps, who might have helped with that pursuit as I grew up.
Escaping to the bigger Australian city of Melbourne was a very good thing for me socially, but I continued to keep my writing hidden over the years. I rarely submitted anything to competitions or journals. Even though I experienced a degree of success when I did. How could I possibly develop my writing skills further if I was not properly reaching out with my writing? It’s an important part of my identity. Yet, if I’d stopped, no one would have noticed.
Like all older writers, I have hundreds of thousands of words buried in various places throughout the house. Under the bed in my bedroom, at the back of bookshelves in the living room and in boxes in the attic. It feels as if my words trail behind me back through the years, reaching through the nineties and the eighties to the seventies. They exist on handwritten scraps, in notebooks, dusty manuscripts (from the heavy, so-called portable Olivetti typewriters with their messy ribbons), in WordPerfect files saved on large and fragile floppy discs (saved by my monochrome Amstrad word processor), in MSWord files on mini-disks, and currently backed up on a portable hard drive that I keep separate from the computer.
I grew up on vintage sci-fi TV shows. Watching the likes of Dr Who and Star Trek from their very start in the sixties. My writing is heavily influenced by sci-fi and fantasy elements. I embarked on a professional Social Work career in the early eighties and to say it has given me material to write about is an understatement. Not that that is why I became a social worker! Hence themes of illness, addiction, recovery, mental health and wellbeing cannot help but also be present in my writing as a back drop, theme or as central to the plot. EleMental: A First-person Shooter is my first published novel. It is both an exploration of addiction and a young-adult sci-fi thriller about virtual video games.
I am happy to report, I finally opened up as a writer on Monday, 10 January 2000. The day I enrolled in a professional writing and editing course. I have my mother to thank for that. At her suggestion, we enrolled together in a college in the heart of the city. I have never been closer to my mother than now as she has become my writing buddy. Good on you, writing, for giving me that. She has successfully published two biographical books and has a third novel on the way. I also wrote my first published novel in the first year of those studies.
My advice: Don’t write in private.
Do you want to get good at something? Make it an important part of your life? Then don’t quietly beaver away for years in a back room, never telling anybody. That’s fooling no one but yourself. Push your words out to others (not just family and friends either). Get feedback. Find beta readers. Join a writers’ group or buddy up with a fellow writer.
Talk about it. Shout about it. Live it!
For more information about Steven O’Connor and his work, check out his website.