“So what are you writing?”
I’m not writing a novel. And I’m getting kind of sick of telling people that.
The Heading North Short Story Prize is run by the Northern Rivers Writers Centre. I’ve never won anything like this before. I am presented with a large novelty cheque and have to sit in on a panel at the Byron Bay Writers Festival (sit, in this case, being the operative word.) I’m asked to read out an exert from the winning story.
For the next three days people come up to congratulate me. I have quiet a lot of conversations with quite a lot of very nice people. All of which feature the same thing. In a variety of different ways all of them make references to my first novel.
I’ve been writing since I learned how to form words. During infants school I’d write epics, still scribbling on yet another sheet of paper long after everyone else had gone back to colouring in. I was ten when I started answering ‘writer’ to the “what do you want to do when you grow up” question. But even then I had a problem.
The N word.
The very idea of writing a novel scares the hell out of me. That’s not to say I haven’t tried. At last count I have four failed novels sitting around. Only one of them stands any chance of being resurrected. For a long time I thought that being a writer meant you had to write books. That you trained as an English teacher or a journalist or a waiter and spent all your spare time slaving over “the novel.”
I always had two problems with that. I have less than no desire to be a journalist or an English teacher. My desire to write a novel is only slightly greater. So being destined to spent years training to do something I hated only to spent all my free time doing something I didn’t want to do didn’t really appeal. But that was what a writer did, right?
I’m not working hard so that one day I can sell enough books to retire and buy a cottage in the Byron hinterland and spend all day writing novels. I’m working hard so that every day I can write and be payed to write and still write for fun in my spare time. You’ll notice that no where along the line have I referred to myself as an author. In fact I am still rather cross that when I registered for an ABN I had to register as an author. That’s not what I am. I’m a WRITER.
This isn’t to say that I won’t ever write a book. I love books. I love the way they feel and look and smell. I would very much like to have one with my name on it. But there are other things I want to do as well. The desire to see the words “written by Alexandra Neill” flick across the opening of a television program is far, far stronger. And I honestly don’t see what’s wrong with that.
I kind of think that the writing credits I’ve gained bear a lot more weight than a thrice rejected manuscript lying at the bottom of a draw.
I look forward to the day the writing community agrees with me.