In my head, there are two types of writers. The first type I consider to be the ‘born’ writer. They come into the world with a sense of destiny about their writerly future. They sit at the computer (or, more romantically, with pen and paper in hand) and the words pour out. Ideas and characters arrive fully formed. The muse speaks to them freely and regularly. They have profound ideas and a wide vocabulary. In conversation, they are articulate and erudite.
I am not that writer.
I am the second type. I was born with a love of reading, but little concept of being ‘a writer’. It took me 36 years to get a story published. My first drafts are pretty awful. My good ideas are few and far between. I use the word ‘sighed’ far too often as a dialogue tag. I spend a good deal of ‘writing’ time simply looking at the blinking cursor, thinking. My muse is a nasty cow who spends most of the time telling me I’m no good.
Almost every fibre of my being tells me it’s a futile exercise, yet I persist, because I know that the vast majority of writers fall into my category – the ‘made’ writer.
By my count, I’ve listened to upwards of 60 podcast interviews with (mostly) Australian writers. Inevitably conversation turns to how they came to be published. Inevitably, the route is circuitous. Other careers have been had. More sensible interests pursued. Many can remember the first story they ever wrote as a child, or a keen teacher who fostered the interest, and this strange, intervening transition to adulthood where writing became an almost secretive love, until a publishing deal was secured.
This is, unless, of course, you are Tim Winton. Having listened to him speak of his path to writing, I see now there is such thing as a born writer. He won the Vogel at 21 and the Miles Franklin at 24. Writing was always in his stars.
But the Wintons of this world are few and far between and, fortunately, there are not enough of them to keep up with the publishing industry’s demand for stories, and so the rest of us have a chance, provided we are willing to work for it.
When I decided, at the age of 34, to pursue my interest in creative writing, the first thing I did was to sign up for a Master’s in Creative Writing. This is what pragmatic women do. They learn, and then they do. At the time, I didn’t comprehend the sniffy debate that decries MFAs as being a total waste of time based on the contention that writing cannot be taught.
For me, the degree was mind-expanding. I learned how to read critically and workshop sensitively. I discovered literary journals and unpicked the elements of the great short stories. I learned that good writing takes re-writing. It takes time and work. Other, smarter people, would not need a degree to learn this, but I did.
I also learned that sitting through a thousand hours of lectures does not make you a writer, in the same way that watching the Olympics doesn’t make you a swimmer. You have to get in the pool and kick your arms and legs. No one else can do it for you. No one call tell you what word comes next.
What I know now is that writing is an art, but also a craft like any other. Some people are born with natural talent, others are not. The point is, the skill can be honed through hard work.
I am a better writer now than I was seven years ago, but I also understand that I’ll never stop learning.
Cassie Hamer is a Sydney-based writer whose short fiction has been published by Black Inc, Margaret River Press and Mascara Literary Review. Her debut novel, After the Party, will be published in 2019 by Harlequin. For more, go to CassieHamer.com.