Writers on Writing: Getting Started with Kathryn Heyman

Kathryn Heyman offers up these tips on how to battle the blank page, defeat distraction and get started writing:

You’ve always wanted to write a novel. Yet every time to sit down to write it, you are distracted by an overwhelming compulsion to clean the oven, phone your mother or feed the dog.

Begin with this sentence: “I’ve always wanted to write a novel, but…” and finish the sentence. Just that. Simple. Begin with externals: I’ve always wanted to write a novel but there isn’t time because I need to work… I have to clean the house because no-one else will do it…. I have no space to write in… Write everything.

In my experience these interferences, though no doubt genuine and pressing, are not the main obstacle. Somewhere behind them lies the secret, hidden fear, which gets dressed up. Creativity is entering into the unknown. It’s frightening. The fear that you won’t succeed – or that you will (and then how will your best friend or lover or sister manage to be in the same room with you without vomiting with envy?). Or the fear that you’ll touch something, once you start to write, which might open you up so terribly that you’ll never be put together again.

As with life, if you let the secret fears niggle away, without naming them out loud, they have more power than they deserve. As with shadows, if you shine a torch on them, they shrink to their proper size.

So, try to dig a little deeper. Keep writing this: I’ve always wanted to write a novel but…and then, dig away at the external reasons, lift up the scab, and try to find the truth. Keep writing until you hit something which feels private and powerful.

Even among the chaos and requirements of everyday living, a desperate desire to write will outweigh the restrictions on time or space or money. Writers who overcome their fear of the unknown (or whose curiosity is stronger than the fear) wake up before their children, write on the train, throw out the television, live in messy houses – do whatever it takes, in other words, to write the story that they are marked out to tell.

Once you start naming the real fears, the secret ones, you can start to get to the truth. And truth is the cornerstone of good writing.

Kathryn Heyman is course director of Faber Writing Academy in Sydney, and tutor of the Writing a Novel courses. Find out more about Kathryn’s writing influences, ambitions and more with Booktopia’s Ten Terrifying Questions.

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