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Sunday, December 26, 2010

Why We Write

This week: Stuart Watkinson

I write because I can’t draw.

I have a very vivid imagination but for all my efforts I cannot transfer the images in my head on to the paper. Many an art class I did as a youngster, with not much improvement. In the end I think I was the one that decided to put the paintbrush down, even though I was constantly told that my work ‘looks really good’ and it was an ‘excellent effort’. That of course was the encouragement that parents and teachers of young children lay on because they have to. I often wonder how long parents would let that kind of encouragement continue… especially if you could see some of the things I have drawn.

So that was it for drawing for me. It wasn’t until I was about 16 that I started to dabble with a bit of writing, most of which was inspired by video games, films, and table top role-playing games. I started writing the story lines for my friends' role-playing games. Which was good fun, as we mainly played Vampire: The Masquerade, therefore I could set the stories in my local neighbourhood. I would use iconic local figures and give them seedy pasts. Corrupt politicians, mental health patients, teachers and even the local shop owners all got given new identities. It made it fun for us and gave it a level of reality as well. These role-playing stories and short story writing for school were the only creative writing that I did. So, when school finished most of my writing did as well. From the ages of about 17 to 22 I didn’t write a thing -- except for university papers, but they aren’t the most exciting things in the world.

So what sparked my interest in creative writing again? Not surprisingly it was some real-life experiences that I had whilst hanging out with a few unfavourable types. I was amazed at some of the horrendous behaviour they/we were getting up to and the characters that I came across. It was a conversation with a very large biker that sparked the idea in my head. He was telling me about the events that led up to his arrest in 2005, which lead him to spending three years in jail. It involved a lot of drugs, violence, outrageous behaviour, ludicrously bad luck and astounding coincidences. As I sat listening to this giant steroid-abusing maniac it struck me... this is incredible. This stuff had to be made up. So I quietly asked a friend of mine about it. It wasn’t; it was true. It blew me away. I had always liked the fact that my area had a bit of a dark underbelly, but some of the things I was beginning to hear were mind-boggling.

I started to take more notice of the conversations that were going on around me. I started to take notes about some of the stories because they were completely off the wall, but I felt like I was becoming a bit of a spy. So, I scratched that. But I did start to adapt some of the tales that I heard and write them down, short stories and even the occasional poem. It was then that I realised how horrible my spelling, grammar and writing skills were. Political science had taken its toll on my ability to write with flare. Herein lies the beginning of my journey.

I started searching the web for help with my writing techniques. The first thing that I found was a small writing group that met at my local library. I went along one Saturday morning to have a look see. I got lots of criticism and not much else. I was ok with that. So I went along to the next meet and again got shot down. It became apparent that a 22-year-old writing about futuristic crime syndicates would never get a good reaction from The Henley Scribblers, which comprised washed out small-timers talking tough in the library.

I tried a few different online writers groups, with varying levels of success and constructive criticism. All the while I kept finding different sites and books to help me along the way. What I found was... most books and writing guides or tips are useful for a time. Until you get to the point where you realise that the only way you are going to get better is if you write. Then re-write. Then write again. All the information given to you from these sources can’t teach how become a writer. They can just give some guidance when you are a writer. And when are you are a writer? (Perhaps that is a question for another day)

Then, of course, I found TFC, which really is a great place; helpful constructive criticism, friendly people, and an active group that want to be involved. The combination of weekly exercises, critical analysis, and friendly competition really does make for a great atmosphere. Also, seeing what the other people in the group are getting up to showed me that I have a long way to go. I am still young and find it hard to put time aside for writing, especially with starting my new job this year, although I will be taking steps to give myself more time in the new year for writing*. I will also be enrolling in a few short courses just for a bit of change and probably joining the South Australian Writers’ Centre, which is quite a handy group for writers in my city.

In short, I write because I have stories I want to share. Everybody comes from somewhere and everyone has something to say.

I think this has given you a little insight into why I write. Thank you for your time.

* Saving for a home loan. I will have to save a LOT considering the price of houses in Australia at the moment.
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