The Warts And All Version Of Starting a Writing Career In a Brand New Country
I’ve been thinking about writing a lot lately. Which is different to actually writing.
Firstly because it is just on two years since I finished my Integrationskurs(German language and cultural orientation course).With my last exam (‘Write a letter to your old school teacher and tell him/her what you have been doing recently’) fertig, my brain cleared of declining nouns and conjugating verbs, it was time to front-up: would I go and find a job as a lawyer (yawn) or dredge out those writing fantasies from the nooks and crannies of my mind by venturing out into unknown depths of the writing world?
Then a few weeks ago, an old friend announced that his short Internet sketch comedy news show was going to be turned into a longer TV comedy series, produced by a national Australian television network.
I emailed him to firstly pass on my congratulations on the show and to also pick his brain about his writing habits and tricks. His reply was something I wanted to share in this post.
Before I do though, I wanted to be self-indulgent and introspective – it is rather cathartic to do so on a blank white screen you know will be read by a few hundred people.
Looking back, I spoke to a few people and was told I should at first piece some kind of writing portfolio together. I knew that I wanted to be able to explore different genres and writing styles, both print and online, in a way that suited me (i.e would allow me to write from different cafés in Prenzlauer Berg).
I just got to writing. I didn’t enrol in a writer’s course as I had some microscopic traces of creative marrow left in me having studied literature and done lots of writing all through university. Alas, since having to churn out legal advices and documents the last few years, I really had to suck that marrow for all it was worth. So I wrote a few small pieces to get started and landed a regular contributing author gig for an online British women’s magazine which enabled me to focus on a few culture,modern life and travel anecdotes.
As adamant as I was to NOT work in the legal field, as fate would have it, I was offered a gig to write and edit a legal business guide in English and German for a Berlin-based law firm. Whilst it was not the sexiest of subject matters, it was writing after all and got me into a loose daily writing and editing discipline.And of course there was the allure of getting published.
Step by little step, I plucked up the courage to apply for a prize I honestly believed I was not going to get, from a German media publishing group to be able to attend its flagship media and business conference known asDLDwomen. Lo and behold, God was smiling down on me that day and I ended up winning the prize.
I went along to the conference eaten up with nerves so much so that it made me feel like I wanted to vomit, being around some of Europe’s and the world’s most respected authors, media figures and artists. It was here I met (ok, stalked) author Paulo Coelho after his talk on writing from the heart and his female heroines.
Meeting Paulo was both inspiring yet intimidating – it led me to spend hours I will never get back ogling at his and other authors/journalists/screen writers’ websites and their works, feeling as though some of their talent would magically come my way via the cosmic forces of the Internet.This would totally throw off track my own plans – whether it is writing an article, a blog post, a presentation or speech or any other writing ‘job’. Or even looking back at a book synopsis I wrote over a year ago.
Then at another Berlin do a few months later, I met a French creativity instructor (in French) who gave workshops on the creative and writing process as taught by writer, author, teacher and film director Julia Cameron.
I joined her workshop and we looked at what we thought of as creativity and explored why we can get ‘blocked’ creatively. Some of the reasons we came up with (relevant for writers were):
– inner fear of failure or lack of self-belief to take action – fear that you or your own writing aren’t good enough – that you will be rejected by every editor/literary agency known to man(or woman) – that you don’t believe in what you are writing/doing – Or that you have received some harsh (and possibly undue) criticism in the past which has likely sucked you into a procrastination black hole.
Cameron wrote The Artist’s Way to assist artists (essentially anyone in the creative world) to overcome their creative rut via a twelve-week inner journey through various exercises and tasks. It may seem lofty, yet there is one main requirement: the daily writing of Morning Pages. These are three longform, handwritten pages written upon waking which are designed to unclog the sub-conscious mind and ensure you get through your writing or creative goals.
The added benefit is that because you will feel “cleared”, there will be a lesser need to procrastinate and therefore it will be easier to launch head – on into whatever writing you want to do that day/week/month. I first started the morning pages fairly fastidiously, went on holidays and stopped, and have now taken them up again. It does mean getting up twenty minutes earlier each day.
I found though that writing them has definitely helped me in squeezing out of a creative rut. It has also helped me to feel more focused and confident in my own writing and writing style.
Through it all though, I found writing quite solitary. No one ever tells you that. There were many days when it was just me, my laptop and eating endless packets of Ritter Sport chocolate in my tracksuit pants at 2pm.
As people got to know I had scrubbed ‘Lawyer’ off my Linkedin Profile and replaced it with ‘Writer’, a few old contacts got in touch to ask if I would work with them on a few projects. Actually, no they didn’t, I am making that up. I painstakingly pitched for every single article, blog post and communications project I ever worked on.
The first dozen rejections from Editors I cried. Then I cried some more, then I just stopped feeling sorry for myself and focused on the positives. I kept pitching for new stories and the persistence eventually paid off.
After the six month mark, I came to realise that writing did not just have to equate to publishing – writing and creating could also bare fruit outside of the print and online media universe. So I decided to also pitch for some creative consulting work with a few communications organisations and businesses that I had come across back home in Oz and in Berlin.
Whether it was writing my speech and post-screening questions as host for a few documentary film premieres in Sydney and Melbourne, researching twenty first office trends and presenting it in a workshop in German or devising and writing a new communications platform for a social media firm: these short and mid-term projects gave me interaction with other humans.
The other thing project work has given me is the breathing space to pursue my paid writing, creative writing and blog writing. I am now, Gott sei Dank, in a much better routine and last year, was invited to join a Büromitgliedschaft, a co-working space in the heart of Berlin with a motley crew of other creative types.
Anyways, I digress. Back to the writing advice from my friend – he too was once a lawyer and wrote for a few successful comedy shows in the last few years:
So my advice? Keep the personal project and give it every chance to breathe.
Best tip I was given was: “Write 200 words every day”. Even if they suck, you get to the end of the week and you’re on 1400 words without even trying, plus the greater value of that approach is that one rarely stops at 200 words.
Similarly for screenplays, if you write just one page per day, you can have two completely finished, revised and edited films by the end of a single year.
Never stop, even if it’s only for you!
Which brings me to the crux of this post : sometimes it is difficult to be a 100% certain about for whom or even why we write. Some of us just like to see our names in cyberspace,others want to be able to write from home and earn a salary writing, others still have intentions to land a book deal or write a film or TV screenplay.
I don’t think it’s necessary to have such an articulated vision, I know I don’t at this stage. Opportunities will come our way which we may not anticipate. So I remain open and challenge myself to try new things out: fiction stories for literary journals, book editing, screen play writing.
Starting on a writing career from scratch in a foreign city on the other side of the world may seem like a ridiculous idea. Indeed it probably is. Yet,when it comes down to it, I have realised writing is a real love for me, indeed it is a labor of love.
And no matter what, I write for myself.