I dreamt of being a writer one day but I was quickly assured that there was no money in it. Is that why we write? I mean really? It had never occurred to me that people got paid to write, I just wanted to tell stories that would make people laugh and cry and fall in love. Where does that come from? I love seeing the rapt look on children’s faces as they listen, you know they are living in the story as you speak.
It’s not just story telling though, I love performing, especially singing, although I don’t sing often now. It is part of who I am as a human being. English was my favourite subject, I loved creative writing, while the rest of the class would groan audibly when the teacher set us a writing task, I would be told, “Remember only one page.” I read everything and anything and cut my teeth on Enid Blyton, Madeline L’Engle, Tolkein, CS Lewis, Daphne Du Maurier, Jane Austin… I read a lot.
Then life got messy.
We moved to America when I was fourteen, not just America, deep in the heart of Texas. I spent a majority of that school year learning how to understand the southern drawl. My French teacher was from South Carolina and her French was appalling. She was like something out of Gone with the Wind. I’m a bit of a chameleon and pick up accents like other people catch colds. We then went to Wales for a few months where I also attended a small Welsh speaking, rural school with all ages in one class. I saw myself as a young Anne of Green Gables, I was too sophisticated to be a pupil at all. I fancied the handsome young teacher and daydreamed that he fancied me; he didn’t.
By the time I came back to Australia I was one very confused teen with a very confused accent. I poured all my angst into writing poetry, songs and creative pieces that impressed my English teacher but left me feeling worse, after all you couldn’t make money writing. There were no creative writing courses at Uni in those days and by the time exams came around, I had given up on school.
I left school the week of exams and ran away from my life and my family to live in Sydney. I tried getting into television with an agency but I couldn’t sign the contract, I didn’t like the nudity clause. I’m sure ‘Neighbours’ and ‘Home and Away’ didn’t suffer without me.
Looking back, I realise how much happened in a short time, it felt like forever while I was living it, but it was only a few years. I still wrote dreadful poems and songs for myself but never shared them. I dreaded being that person who writes crap while people politely applaud. I didn’t want to produce cringe worthy stories like home made clothing that you are forced to wear. (my mother couldn’t sew but she often tried) My favourite movie of all time, well it’s in my top five, is ‘Ishtar.’ It was a huge box office flop, but I think it’s the funniest movie I have ever seen. It’s about two older guys, who are try-hard song writers who don’t know how crap they really are. I have never wanted that to be me, so I kept my writing strictly to myself, even my songs were written under a pseudonym just in case someone stumbled across my notebook.
After three years of partying, I came home to Melbourne, I was twenty, completely grown up and in charge of the world… I met my future husband, a rock musician in a popular Aussie band and I lived on the side lines of the entertainment industry living vicariously through his career.
We married when I was twenty-four and had two children by the time I was thirty. I threw my creativity into raising kids and being a youth minister. I wrote sermons and devotions, trained young leaders, performed and led worship services, wrote performed and directed dramas, puppets, choreographed dances, designed and directed large scale productions… the list is endless.
After twenty or so years spent as a youth minister, giving of myself, propping people up, healing the wounded, raising a family… I was tired. My kids were grown up and I needed to step away from a ministry that didn’t understand or value creative arts or even see it as real work. I decided to give myself a year to just write, to finally allow myself to just write stories and see what would happen.
I wrote a few stories, or rather began a few. I took short courses, joined a writing group and gave it a good crack. I should have take a year off just to enjoy the sunsets and to smell a rose or two. I was more than drained, my well wasn’t just dry, it was cracked and leaking with only dust at the bottom. Then several friends were diagnosed with cancer that year, two sadly passed away. Then one of our beautiful horses and a beloved dog had to be put down and my husband nearly died of a gall bladder infection. That year my twelve year old grieving niece came to live with us, her mum was one of the ones who had died.
So writing was on the back burner again and I went back to work, this time in admin at a church. Surely that wouldn’t be draining. I needed to feel productive and to contribute to our finances with an extra mouth to feed; clearly I wasn’t going to sell any books soon. Perhaps I’d be able to write in my spare time.
Five years flew by and I was up to my neck in serving in the church… voluntary and paid, but my well was making those loud gurgling, sucking sounds like someone had pulled the plug out of a bath. Both my children married that year, and our ‘adopted’ teen soon left the nest as well. Before long I became a grandmother to four beautiful children. I made wedding quilts and wool-felt activity books and poured all my creative energy into craft and being the best ‘Nannie’ I could be. I even made the children some quick little picture books as presents, but it wasn’t writing.
I knew I needed to deal with the great gaping black hole my creative well had become. From all the books and courses I had a lot of information about writing and a lot of reasons why I shouldn’t write. No adjectives, make sure you have all five senses on the page, keep the story moving, dialogue is hard to do, show don’t tell, it’s impossible to be published. All the information was now a huge hinderance to the joy of writing. Like a giant hair ball of information, it was choking me.
Then I stumbled across Jen Storer on You Tube; 2015 Q and Q Fridays. The ears of my soul pricked up. It was like I had been buried under a sea of how to books and websites and I peeked over the top of the mound to hear Jen say: “Welcome to Q and Q Friday.” I began to watch from Episode 1. Slowly, slowly the pile of books and information on ‘How to Write’ began to slip. I tentatively put my toe in the water and joined Jen’s Duck Pond on FaceBook. Before long I had subscribed to Q and Q Friday’s as I wanted to hear what Jen was saying now. Should I jump right in the pond and sign up for Jen’s Scribblers course as well? I procrastinated for a couple of weeks. I’ve done so many courses over the last ten years on and off… this would just be another. Wouldn’t I just end up more confused and no further down the road of actually writing again. But the more I listened to Jen the more sense it made.
I am a jump in the deep end person so I enrolled in Jen’s Scribbles course as well and a new ‘Creative Writing Demystified Studio Class’ in Maldon. I was committed.
I got up to module two in the course and started making rules for myself. “You can’t do module three until you’ve used all the words in the exercises.” Who said? I started writing the ‘morning pages.’ Three full pages of long hand stream of consciousness writing, which exhausted me and made me angry. I had nothing left to say and no ideas. It was so hard to fill three pages; ergo I was a writing failure. I was on an emotional rollercoaster and my Inner Critic was yelling at me to cease and desist. What I hadn’t allowed myself to do, at any time, was to recover. I needed to fill my well. Why did I think three pages of stream of consciousness writing would magically unlock my imagination on day one?
Today, at the end of my first notebook, I have realised that I am in recovery. Little by little the voices that kept me locked away are getting quieter. Yesterday I dug out a story I started writing in 2009 and printed it off. I read all seventeen pages, a lot of which I don’t remember writing. I was pleasantly surprised that I enjoyed reading the story. I had written it before I started all the courses and reading all the books. Why did I stop? Oh that’s right, I thought it was crap. Imagine my surprise when I realised, at the end of reading and scribbling notes all over it, that I was actually ‘doing the verk’ as Jen says. I was editing my unfinished story.
I now do my morning pages religiously, they may feel like a time waster to my Inner Critic – ‘Muriel,’ she’s terrible, but somehow they are freeing me up and helping the ideas flow, or the idea of having ideas.
Of all the courses I have done over the last ten or so years, Jen Storer’s ‘Scribbles’ is the first course that has freed up my imagination and helped me to hush the negative thoughts. Not to just admit they are there, it has given me tools to work around them.
I am learning to let go and make a mess, to be a beginner. Jen Storer, you are a bloody legend. You have generously shared your thoughts, wisdom, insights, time… endless time, I know how long productions take, with such generosity of heart in what you do. Thank you is not enough…but I’ll say it anyway, thank you Jen Storer, you are the Queen.