Origin of the Writer is a series of essays giving emerging writers the opportunity to share their writing journey so far.
I need another hobby.
I’m a full-time scriptwriter (soap opera and some kids’ television) and my ‘hobby’ is writing unpublished novels.
There’s enough uncertainty in living on one’s wits as a scriptwriter, but the fears generated by working toward being published – investing years of hard graft for the greater uncertainties of authorship – are far greater.
But writing novels is like heroin.
At first, it’s just a bit of fun. I remember thinking, ‘on my next days off I’ll have a shot at writing a YA novel – it’ll just be a bit of page-turning fun’.
And it was fun. I loved it. I knew nothing about writing books, and my only rule was ‘everything should keep getting worse till the last page’. I found characters quickly, and they were strong enough to take over the decision-making for where the narrative should go. I fell in love with them. They were funny, sad, brave, foolish, terrifying and caring.
Before I knew it, I’d finished writing a manuscript – a whole book! I wrote a book!
So I was hooked. Down the rabbit hole I went, one MS after another, meeting characters, exploring the worlds of the past, the present and the future, researching, and constantly thinking of the next emotional shift or plot-point.
Soon, writing was all I was doing. I still loved it, more than ever, despite working full-time, and the growing unease of wondering how the fun of writing novels might one day translate to actually being published.
Seminars, workshops and writers’ festivals. Writing groups, writers’ associations and mentors. One MS finished, editing the earlier one, writing the next, researching the one after that. Juggling worlds, herding ensembles of characters, and only ever really understanding what I was writing about after I’d done the first draft. All of it between television scripts that roll in and roll out, on deadlines tighter than a politician’s smile.
Then, a creeping unease about ‘doing more’ to get published, a sensible urge to begin making even a tiny revenue out of my work while battling the fear it’s not good enough. A growing guilt that all I really want is to write, not be an Author. But the bottom drawer is full, and those characters want out. What the hell am I doing?
There should be a Writers’ Anonymous.
‘Hi, my name is Ben Marshall, and I haven’t written for two days.’ [polite applause] ‘I guess it really began when I was a kid. My parents read and wrote, there were books lying around everywhere, and my mother even read to me – openly. I didn’t stand a chance…’
So, 3AM, you’re lying awake thinking, ‘it’s not too late – I can give up now and look back on this as youthful folly.’ But then you get second-prize in a competition. Then, a win. A short film-script wins awards in Australia and New York. Then you win mentorships. Then a shortlisting for Emerging Writer.
How can you give it up when people are beginning to say your writing is good.
So you let yourself sink into the ocean of story. But now you need more research than ever to maintain. More notes. More structures to hold it all together. You’re in deep.
Swapping metaphors, you realise you’re now committed to the Mount Everest of writing – traditional publication. You cling to your real-world climbing experience, remembering that your focus isn’t the summit but on completing each stage. Base Camp. Camp One. Camp Two… Keep making the stages, and you’ll eventually find yourself on the summit, looking around, trying to enjoy the moment.
But all that is in some fuzzy, indefinite, implausible future. Now, as a potential ‘emerging writer’, you’re a stranger in a strange land, surrounded by published writers. They’re lovely, sweet and helpful people. You panic – you know you’re not like them. You’re a fake, and these good souls should call the Writing Police, and the police should kick in your door just before dawn, and demand you step away from the keyboard. Cuffed, hooded and dragged to the van on the curb, you’ll feel a strange relief that you’ve been caught before it could go any further, or get any worse.
Then, out of the blue, it all goes pear-shaped – you get an agent.
An actual agent who loves your latest project and is busting a gut to get it published. Now, it’s serious. Now there’s no going back. There’s the enormous risk of failure, yes – painful, protracted, mortifying failure – but there’s no possibility of retreat. Now you have to step up and pretend…no, believe in yourself. Believe in your work. What it means. What the strength of it is. The soul, the love, the passion, the anger, the bitter sadness, and the many small joys.
You have to back yourself. You may be a hopeless addict, struggling to keep a paying job to support your habit, but now you’re a new creature, a chrysalis.
An emerging writer.
Ben Marshall is a scriptwriter and ‘emerging writer’ who lives in a tiny house near a big lake with his lovely wife and two enormous dogs. All day, every day, he writes, pats the dogs, drinks coffee, pats the dogs, listens to music, kisses his wife, pats the dogs, and writes. Aside from scripts, he writes historical YA, Gothic horror, MG adventure, and speculative fiction.