Our Faber Writing Academy scholarship winner Ella Lamb shares her thoughts on why she keeps writing, and the many other questions that authors must answer on a regular basis.
There seems to be an awful lot of questions aspiring authors must answer: what is your story about? Who is your main character? What motivates them? When and where does the action take place? Who’s point of view is the story told from? What tense will you use? Does your story make any sense? Will anyone even want to read it? When will your house be cleaned? Are your children raising themselves to be well-adjusted individuals? What are the chances your book will EVER be published? Who are you KIDDING?
Halfway through Writing a Novel: First Draft, after an exceptionally draining day of trying to answer some of the above questions, (and feeling like the answers were completely out of my reach), I asked myself this: why do I keep torturing myself with this writing business?
This is probably the most important question any aspiring author can ask themselves. After all, in almost any other occupation, paid or unpaid, you can set a goal and reach it within a reasonable amount of time. Cleaning the toilet, for example, requires rubber gloves, a bit of bleach and a good scrub. Goal achieved. (And if your timing’s right, it might even stay clean for a while.) At work, if the filing needs doing, you sing the alphabet song and shove papers in the most appropriate folders (while praying nobody needs to find them again). Job done. Kids need attention, hand them an iPad (better yet hand them a book). Too easy.
Writing’s not like that. Writing a novel is a long-term commitment. It’s hours and hours and hours of sitting alone in front of a computer writing and re-writing for months (sometimes years) on end. It’s setting little achievable goals, taking baby steps towards the bigger, seemingly insurmountable goal. It’s lots of chocolate (or coffee or wine or creative naps – whatever gets you through). And even when you’ve finished, after all the work you’ve put in, there’s no guarantee your book will be published. You send your manuscript out into the world and cross your fingers. Then it’s time to start writing the next one. (Uncross your fingers first though, it makes typing easier.)
So, back to the question: why do I keep torturing myself? Annoyingly, I already knew the answer before my brain even asked. I would like to have wallowed in other people’s books for a few days at least. But no. I know why I torture myself with this writing business. Because not writing is more of a torture. If I don’t write, I feel antsy and anxious. If I don’t write, I wake up in the middle of the night with story ideas that won’t leave me alone (because my ideas are so, so brilliant at one o’clock in the morning). If I don’t write, characters swim around in my head and beckon me to come play while I’m trying to concentrate on important things like not burning dinner.
So perhaps before trying to answer all of the above questions, aspiring authors should ask themselves this: what is your motivation?
Ella Lamb wrote her first book – a ghost/alien-invasion story illustrated with stick figures – after a camping trip to the Grampians when she was nine. She still loves writing about ghosts, aliens and things that are possible only in the imagination. As well as the Faber Writing Academy scholarship, she has received an Australian Society of Authors’ mentorship, won a Freshly Squeezed Reads’ choice award for the first chapter of a YA fantasy novel and completed a Writing Picture Books course through Victoria University. Ella lives in Melbourne with her husband and the two awesome people who call her mum.