by Ekaterina Fawl
Writing has been my hobby and obsession since I was about seven, and it has also been my secret.
As a child I hid away the stories I scribbled in my spare school notebooks. As many kids, I was somewhat fascinated with the macabre. My stories were dark and gory and I didn’t want my budding goth aesthetics to cause any alarm to my parents.
Of course I never told anyone about my writing when I was in my teens. Even wearing the wrong kind of hat could destroy your social standing in those years, let alone admitting to something so hopelessly uncool and nerdy. I had spent enough energy trying to dodge the swotter label. What would my peer think about me doing extra writing – for fun! – after I meticulously finished all my homework for the day?
Later on, as I finally developed my friend circle of fans and geeks, we spent hours talking about our favourite writers, delving into the minor details of their universes and the lore, the character’s motivations and coolest moments. Then it would have been unthinkable to admit I write too, fantasy, as well, even science fiction, just like our faves. Of course I wasn’t as good as our idols, and I didn’t want to invite comparison. Our favourite writers were all men, as well – the few women authors were widely praised for the very fact that their writing was pretty indistinguishable from what a man would do. So, obviously, I didn’t want my friends to laugh at my feeble attempts. As long as they didn’t know about my writing, I could imagine they might like my stories, if they’d read them.
Basically, I was being a total George McFly about it.
Look, it’s scary. Writing is intensely personal, deeply private, and yet its very purpose is to communicate something, to share your thoughts with someone else. Sometimes it’s about writing letters of advice to future you, or words of comfort to past you – a lot of famous novels are nothing but. Sharing your writing with someone else is a powerful experience, and it can be immensely rewarding, but it’s so often terrifying.
There’s also the whole unfortunate stereotype of being a writer, a pretentious bohemian hipster-person. Writing, like photography, doesn’t require any skills a seven-year-old doesn’t possess in order to create a finished product. The quality of the product is another matter, but that’s why it can be so difficult to admit that you sink countless hours into such a hobby. But taking pictures is just pressing a button, people would say. But writing is just making things up, anyone could do it. If you were making money from it, that’s a different story. Otherwise, it’s just a bit sad, isn’t it?
Besides, as a writer, there’s a feeling that you are expected to be an authority on the subject you’re writing about, be it romance, space battles or dragons. Otherwise, what gives you the right to go on about it for pages and pages? And, let’s face it – out of all people, writers are perhaps most acutely aware that whatever they do, they’re groping in the dark. That’s the whole point. We do what we do in the hope that when we’re done our experiences and traumas, our dreams and fears, thoughts and feelings would turn into a story: would gain shape, structure, drive and meaning, would finally make sense.
So, after years of keeping this completely benign secret like this was something to be ashamed of, the first person I told about my writing was, of course, another writer.
The first time I was in the company of other writers, people who casually talked about their stories and freely supplied me with links and printouts, was a revelation. We weren’t ashamed. We weren’t hiding anything, or deflecting questions, or pretending to be more normal and boring than we were. We talked about the craft, about the challenges and triumphs of it, about those stories we obsess with but never have time to write, about that one precious piece we did that nobody else just seems to get (‘maybe I’ll rewrite it, I still love the concept’), about that one character we love so much we have to torture them horribly. It was amazing. I was with my tribe.
Then I met people who wrote and published fiction online under their own names, even though they had jobs in accounting and IT, and nobody fired them for being a disgrace and a ridiculous human being. I met people who tweeted under their own names and promoted the hell out of their own writing, as if they had no shame or fear. People who read their stories at open mic nights at their locals, who casually send their novels off to publishers, as if that was nothing.
Of course I’d known other amateur writers existed. It seemed impossible to suggest that only famous people with degrees and writing careers, operating out of London and New York mansions, dabbled in story-making. But it never seemed quite real until a person I’d just met said: “Oh cool, me too, I’m finishing my second space opera.”
I was still shy about telling my family what it was I did with my spare time, but that turned out to be completely unfounded too. When my great uncle, well into his eighties, announced he’d written his first book, everyone’s support and interest were overwhelming. Other writers, apparently, are everywhere!
So, sod shyness, shame and fear. We’re writers, we can tell people about it. This is how we meet others like us. Writing can be a lonely slog, and we need to stick together. If there aren’t hidden writers to uncover in your immediate circle, then there are plenty of supportive communities online. Local writing groups are invaluable for honing our craft, getting and giving moral support and generally hanging out with other incredibly cool people like ourselves. And if there isn’t a writing group near you, then perhaps there should be, and it’s your destiny to start it.
I’ll be talking more about writing groups later – what they’re like, what it’s like to join one, and what it takes to start one.