In high school there was this period of time in which everyone seemed to be giving me books on the students who died in the Columbine massacre. I couldn’t tell you why I received so many of these but I can tell you they are a contributing factor in my pathological need to overachieve. Life is short and all that.
I don’t mean to belittle these books, I actually really treasured them, especially Rachel Scott’s story as told by her parents. Although I wasn’t particularly media savvy at the time of the attacks (I was 9 at the time) so I never felt their immediate impact I was very moved by the books when I read them in my early teens.
Don’t quote me on this as I don’t have the books themselves anymore, but at the time of Rachel Scott’s death she was writing a book called Things I’ve Learnt Lately and this in particular has stuck with me. At least once a year I like to look back on the year that was and contemplate what I have learnt and how I have grown as a person.
So here it is, the things I learnt in 2009:
1. I have learnt to turn my dreams into goals and to have confidence in my ability to achieve them. Six months ago I’d never written more than 20 pages on the one project. Now I’ve written 43,000 words of a novel and I have complete confidence that I will finish it. What’s more I have confidence that one day I will become a published author. To the me of 6 months ago this would have seemed like complete hubris, but I’ve learnt that the only way I will achieve my goals is if I have this confidence. What’s more, my research of the industry, although full of sad stories of failure, has many stories of hope and perseverance. Although it probably won’t be this book, maybe the next one, or the one after that, or maybe even my tenth novel, will be published. In this respect (and most other respects) I fully agree with Maggie Stiefvater when she says if you want something enough you WILL get it. The wanting, of course, assumes hard work will be put into your goals. Another convincing factor for me was hearing from writers like Diana Peterfreund of their own journey to publication and the essential factors which lead to publication, which are, basically, "Write a very good book. Revise it very well. Write a very good query letter and send it out to very good agents."( Diana’s words, not mine). This is something I can do – will do, when I’m ready, which leads me to:
2. I’ve learnt how to write a novel. This is a pretty serious achievement for me, although it seems rather belated as I’ve been reading ‘how to’ writing books and blogs since I was 11 years old. The reason it took me so long to get a clue is that writing is an entirely individual activity. Something that works for one writer will send another into a spiral of bad coffee, self doubt and procrastination. I learnt how I write this year because I did a heck of a lot of writing. In writing you learn by doing, a step many aspiring writers (including myself at times) skip over. Another reason it took me so long is that I bought into the theory that plotting is *evil*, especially for your first novel. Countless 20-page unfinished manuscripts prove the point I made above that what works for many writers really, really doesn’t work for all writers. Finding Diana Peterfreund’s blog (where have you been all my life, Diana? :P) was a revelation. Here was a young, successful writer who actually had the guts to admit a love of plotting. Diana has inspired me to come out of the closet as well: I LIKE TO PLOT. I don’t find it boring, I don’t think it kills the fun to know where I’m heading and my faithful synopsis has gotten me where I am today.
3. I’ve continued to learn the art of the conversation. This one I’ve been working on for years and I’ve made great leaps of progress in the past two years. It seems like a funny thing to celebrate, but thing is, when I was a kid I was incredibly shy. I spent every lunchtime in the library so I wouldn’t have to socialise with the other kids, whose politics and pecking order I didn’t at all understand. It was pretty miserable for me, except when I was reading, of course, because I could live vicariously through other, more social people. In year 11 I moved to Newcastle from my country town and started at a new school. I found friends relatively quickly but I was still the quiet girl who knitted/read/played cards during lunch instead of figuring out the politics of being a highschool girl. Somewhere in this time I started writing a novel (one of many, many attempts) but at some stage I had to give up as I had no fricken’ idea how to write dialogue or how other, different types of people ticked. My description skills were awesome from all those years of observation and reading but otherwise I sucked as a writer. And then something miraculous happened: I got a job as a receptionist in my first year of uni and was forced out of my comfort zone. I had to talk to all sorts of people from all sorts of backgrounds. So I’ve spent the last few years paying incredible attention to how people interact, and I’ve become quite good at facilitating conversation, if I say so myself. I also took a journalism class in my first semester of my second year (2009) which put me in the chair of interviewer. I got to hear people’s stories and I loved it. No longer am I freaked out by social situations. No longer is my dialogue non-existent, my characters flat and my confidence severely depleted. No longer am I shy.
4. I’ve learnt a LOT about myself, about my impatience (I did get married at 18), my overachieving, which wraps my self-worth in its stress-ball of a cacoon and the fact that I get very, very grumpy when I don’t get my usual 8 hours of sleep. And, best of all, I have learnt how to manage these things. I’ve learnt about priorities, that if I really want something I need to make it a priority, not let uni or external expectations get in the way. I’ve learnt to savour the journey, as you would have read if you follow this blog, which I am completely aware no-one does, which accounts for my honesty.
5. I’ve learnt that I actually like to blog, which you would guess if you have noticed how little I actually do it. I suppose 2010 for me is the year to give myself permission to do things like read and blog and go to the gym, rather than sticking to my crazy-person minute-by-minute daily schedule. This is in line with my learning to prioritize.
6. I’ve learnt how to stay on top of the cleaning. Little victories, people.
7. geez, I’ve learnt that it takes me forever to write a blog post. I’m going to take a break from this particular post. I may write a follow-up one in the next few days 🙂
Forgive me dear non-existent readers. It is New Years day and I didn’t get a whole lot of sleep last night, but I must get onto those goals of mine now, starting with a little bit of writing and maybe a few chapters of Shiver if I can stay awake long enough (Mother has gotten me thus far, perhaps a coffee will keep me going.)
P.S. Spell-check tells me ‘learnt’ isn’t a real word: First thing I learnt (learned) in 2010. Maybe I’ll be one of those writers who makes up words which subsequently become incorporated into dictionaries. In other words, I’m way too tired to go back through this post to change every "learnt". Goodness, I can barely remember the meaning of either word I’ve been staring at them for so long. Time for coffee/nap methinks!