I spoke on a panel at my old university yesterday, which was officially titled ‘Life After Uni’ and unofficially ‘Negotiating the Black Hole’. It was to the current creative writing students. I was really excited about this, immediately intrigued to see whether I could collate all my writing experiences into one cohesive message. Would it be a message of hope, or perhaps a kind of blighted subterranean bell driving the townsfolk mad? We were asked to present a list of everything we’ve done and the challenges overcome and where we are now, with vaguely a five minute time limit. After that it would be opened to the audience to ask questions.
The more I thought about this, the more concerned I was that my writing had no message. I was too sporadic, being a playwright at one point, a literary editor, some short stories, poetry boyband member, that time I pitched a film about an octopus to Rian Johnson – what the hell did it all mean? So in typical me style, I completely over-prepared. I was adding notes on the train down. None of the other panellists even had notes.So what I ended up doing was speaking for way too long about the things I’d done – derailing my own conversation with funny anecdotes about hotels in Tasmania, which I cackled over, before I ran out of time and had to move on to the next speaker (which was entirely fair as I’d gone WAYYYY overtime). All the other panellists were funny and informative, but I’d felt there was no real cohesion to what I’d said, there was no lesson. It sounded just like I’d read my resume.
I did have a message buried in there, which was that I didn’t feel qualified to give advice, because everything I’ve done has been like a particularly haphazard experiment. And at this stage I can point out certain things that definitely have worked, and some things that look like they might be working and some things that I hope do work. But I’m still in the middle of the experiment, so writing up my science report and handing it in would be premature. I suppose it doesn’t end until I’m dead. But, in writing terms, I suppose I can give some advice to young writers on good places to start the grand writing experiment, which I didn’t really feel like I got to do.
When it came to questions, I only had the time/opportunity to give two bits of advice. The first was write for or edit the uni newspaper, because that always looks good for any writing position later on and will give you actual skills. Then I insulted that paper, talking about how when I was there it looked like a cross between a kidnappers ransom note and a Lenin retrospective. (I picked up a current copy and it looks really good now btw – not to mention there was some dudes excellent butt on the cover).
Then, as closing remarks, we were asked to give one piece of advice. I was torn between something generic like ‘don’t isolate yourself, get out there and make friends and contacts’ or something more philosophical.
What I went with was something along the lines of ‘Just remember – nobody wants you. You’re doing something that nobody in the world actually needs. It’s often useless and frivolous.’
This wasn’t meant to be a barrage of ill-placed ‘real talk’. I still remember my alcoholic lecturer coming in and telling us ‘nobody would be successful ever’. What I was trying to remove is the concept of entitlement. Far too many writers believe they are being hard done by, because it’s a very difficult craft and industry. But the industry owes you nothing – so you have to work hard to make your place. Think outside the box, be professional, be organised. If your plays aren’t being produced, produce them yourself, if you think there should be a walrus themed poetry night, organise it. You can’t rely on favours – but if you are out there making yourself known, opportunities might come up, things might happen.
It was meant to be an inspiring kick up the ass, and to move away from the chic helplessness a lot of failed writers cultivate. But as per usual, I fucked up my word hole. So now I’m writing it. Because writing is awesome and is a much more efficient medium to impose information on others. And as for some kind of cohesive message from my writing practice? Nothing except for possibly ‘I enjoy doing it still’.