Come play inside a writer's brain, scary!

During the last month while I’ve been Established Writer-in-Residence at Katharine Susannah Prichard Writers’ Centre in Perth, I’ve discussed craft and lifestyle issues with writers working in many different fields. One experience we all have trouble with is when non writers assume that because your job is to put words together, you can do it at the drop of a hat.

Birthday cards and get-well cards are the most trying

We might not even know the person the card is intended for. Yet we’re still expected to come up with something witty to make the card sparkle.

Roses are red, violets are blue,

Get well or not, it’s all up to you.

Um…no. “Just dash something off.”  

Susan O’Brien, a delightful and talented poet I met at Poets@KSP, said she was also told, “It doesn’t matter if the poem doesn’t rhyme.” The person asking had no idea what kind of poetry Susan writes. Didn’t matter. Just dash something off. It’s not that we don’t want to help, but it’s as difficult as anyone else would have demonstrating their trade on a whim.

Would you approach a doctor at a social gathering

and request a note for your employer?

It doesn’t matter if I’m sick or not, just dash something off. Sounds silly, doesn’t it? Yet writers are constantly asked to supply original words to suit any occasion. “Don’t spend any time on it, whatever you do will be fine.” Would that our editors were equally agreeable.

Just call me Hallmark

More often than not, I agonise over words, reaching for exactly the right phrases to capture a thought or feeling. Or strive to describe a character’s situation so vividly that a reader lives it, rather than reading about it. It’s not unusual for writers to read over the previous day’s work, delete the lot of it and start again.

When I wrote my first novels, I was still a freelance writer of non fiction books and articles. Yet I managed to write five books over two years. When I decided to write novels exclusively, I looked forward to seeing my output soar. Guess what? I still wrote two to three novels a year. By then I’d used up all the plots I’d carried around in my head, and much of my own experiences. And my expectations for myself had risen.

The writing gets harder, not easier as you demand more of yourself

The act of putting the words together was less scary because I knew I could do it. But what was I to write about? The terror of the blank screen or page haunts every writer I know. I believe we write to see IF we can do it. Every book is a first book. New challenges, new pitfalls.

Roses are red, violets are…azure, beryl, cerulean, cobalt, indigo, navy, royal, sapphire, teal, turquoise, ultramarine

Nope, no dashing off happening here. What about you?


Established Writer in Residence, Katharine Susannah Prichard Writers’ Perth

And dashing posts off on Twitter @valerieparv

and Facebook


Comments on: "You’re a writer, you can dash something off" (7)

  1. The more books I write, the harder it gets. And the more I sell, the harder it gets as well. Now I have readers and fans with expectations. No longer am I writing only for myself. Some days it’s downright terrifying.

    • That’s it Tori. We feel the fear and do it anyway, as the saying goes. But it’s always hanging around in the background, ready to pounce if we let it.

  2. I only have trouble writing when I have to do it under the eagle eye of ‘Someone else who knows about writing’. This says nothing about the quality of writing. I’m always the one at work who gets the job of writing stuff. ‘I just need a letter to excuse me from jury duty. Like yesterday.’ ‘Ok, you want me to say that you are so absolutely essential that the place will fall down if you take a few days off to serve the community. Sure. I’m good at fiction.’

    As you can see I’m a natural liar. So plots and ideas for stories are no brainers. I can think of a fictional scenario in two seconds flat. Some of them even believable. My problem comes with translating the vision to the page. And whether my vision of the world is appealing to more than myself. Probably not. But it’s a great stress reliever to vanish into a fictional world where the only people who argue with you are the recalcitrant creations of your own disordered mind.
    PS. No one would want my poetry for a birthday card. My efforts are more Sylvia Plath with gas inhalation than Hallmark.

  3. Instant Birthday Greeting.

    A birthday
    Why bother
    Really not
    And never
    A day different
    to any
    Anyone Care
    I suppose it’s

  4. “You are so essential that the place will fall down if you take a few days off…I’m good at fiction” Love it, Fiona. Don’t think the person asking you to dash something off would agree it was fiction though. And the birthday poem rocks.

  5. Judy Neumann said:

    I can’t just dash off a comment for this blog, can I? 🙂

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