My most sustained attempt to quit writing forever was in the mid-nineties. I’d completed a novel that was greeted with indifference by publishers and was courting self-pity. I’d been writing for two decades, experimenting with scripts, comedy skits and short stories for adults and children, but had met with little success. The sensible course of action was to celebrate a valiant attempt but recognize I’d fallen short. I should concentrate on something else. A real job – perhaps even a career – was in order. I took a solemn oath to cease writing. Forever.
I’d been a library assistant for several years and elected to become a librarian. I embarked on a post-graduate degree in Information Management. Studying shunted fiction aside. My energies were diverted into essays, research and the Dewey Decimal System.
One unexpected benefit of quitting was that Saint Valentine evicted Saint Lucy. Writing is protracted and solitary but now I had more time to lavish on my partner. Cupid was my new muse. I was no longer surly because a story was going badly. I was more in-the-moment, not drifting off to ponder plot twists. More importantly, I wasn’t cajoling my partner into reading my latest scribblings, placing her in the invidious position of either praising it – in which case I would accuse her of not being critical enough – or detailing its deficiencies – at which point I’d insist she didn’t love me anymore. Romance blossomed.
Upon completing my studies I was promoted to librarian. The new job left little time for creativity. When story ideas infiltrated I blocked them. When they persisted, I conceded it was okay to entertain them, as long as I did not jot anything down. When the ideas burgeoned, I permitted myself to take notes, as long as I did not develop them. By this stage, I knew I was fooling myself.
When I returned to writing, the stories were different. Because abstinence hadn’t worked, I sensed I was committed: trapped. Determination set in. The new stories were less juvenile. Eccentricities were tempered. I was more cruelly critical and willing to edit, prepared to jettison the most well-loved paragraphs if they struggled to fit. My fiction began to be accepted by literary magazines.
I attempted another novel but abandoned it halfway through a second draft. It was better than my first but still unpublishable. I concluded I was not a novelist. I had good ideas but seemed incapable of developing them. So I quit writing novels. Forever.
Then in 2010 I heard a radio review for Nicole Krauss’s mesmerising Great House. The reviewer opined that prose fiction was the only art form in which an inanimate object – in this case a desk – could be a main character (in fact, the desk is a MacGuffin that connects four disparate human protagonists). I was taken with the notion of creating something that could only be achieved in a single format. How desirable, I thought, to stymie those lucrative movie deals at the very source. Who would want to make a mint on a musical adaptation? Like all the best authors I set about stealing another writer’s concept. But what if I could go one better? What if the inhuman entity that progressed my novel wasn’t a material object? What if it was a song? From there, it was a short step to imagining my song as the narrator, and then I was enslaved. I began feverishly scratching notes. For a while the working title was Empty Fairground, the name of my fictitious hit. Soon after beginning a creative writing course at the University of Tasmania, it became Earworm.
I have just reviewed this piece and it seems trite and somewhat self-serving. So that’s it, I’m quitting blogging.
Colin Varney’s short stories have appeared in Meanjin, Kill Your Darlings, Island and Southerly. He has written articles for The Lifted Brow and satire for Adelaide Review and Tasmanian Times. His children’s book, Jellylegs, is widely used to promote protective behaviours. He completed a Master’s in creative writing at the University of Tasmania, mentored by Danielle Wood. Earworm is his first novel.