I started writing as a child (and then as parent) to connect with my core beliefs, my foetal intuition, my true self. Letters to family members, journal entries, blog posts, to-do lists… all of them assisted me to get to know what was truly going on inside my head and my heart.
I prefer to write by hand as the pace of my pen (a fast-flowing one, mind-you!) matches the speed of my thoughts. I can also press down harder when I’m angry and make BIG, FAT, CHUNKY CAPITALS when I’m FURIOUS, without having to format the font size afterwards!
I write to debrief, to reflect, to understand and to move on. Simple. I wish I’d know that when I first started writing – I was never planning to be a literary giant – I always thought I’d write fiction because I read a shed-load of it as a lonely child, with Jo March as my heroine.
By the time I started writing for an audience, I’d well-and-truly come out of escapism and only wanted to write about real life – the joy and the suffering. My goal was to get my message across to whomever was reading it – clearly, simply and without overplaying anything. Flowery prose was never my thing, although I occasionally get stuck on a theme – sailing analogies, par example. I also slip a little French in now and then, Georgette Heyer style…
I rarely write when life is happily busy, or at a status quo. I write when I’m at an emotional extreme, because I feel feelings so intensely, there needs to be an overflow outlet to stop me imploding – my trusty pen.
How did you come to writing?
I read a lot in my youth, escaping the loneliness of an only child with hard-working parents by disappearing into the fantasy worlds of Enid Blyton and beyond.
I was given a diary by my grandmother when my parents separated, which I used from time to time to document my life. I’d like to say it was filled with pages and pages of childhood angst, but it was more of a commentary on the most inane things a child could do each day – what I ate for breakfast, what I watched on TV, who I saw at the shops, etc.
Thankfully, my parents made me write letters to foreign family members thanking them for birthday money, and, in doing so, I gained a world full of pen pals. In the ’70s and ’80s, writing letters was my version of Facebook and I learned how to communicate very effectively – as a writer, reader and listener.
I have about 20 journals, dating back 30 years, that I add to from time to time, filling them with bits and pieces, all of which show a piece of my soul.
I started blogging as a round-the-world sailor when my husband and I set off on a huge trip in 2006 from the UK to Australia, and haven’t been able to stop, especially since becoming a parent the following year. The parallels between sailing and parenting are numerous – the calm before the storm, weathering said storm, rough seas ahead, tempests flaring, etc. (See, I told you I liked boating analogies!)
My emotions have been running to extremes for 10 years now because of what life has thrown my way, and without the written word, I fear I might have lost my mind. Writing has kept me sane, and by sharing my words with others in a public forum, I have been told that I have helped many other parents shoulder their own burdens, mainly by letting them know that they’re not alone in their struggles.
What were your greatest obstacles starting out? How did you overcome them?
Worrying about money was the biggest obstacle. I had such a strong urge to write ALL THE TIME, and had to prove to myself and my husband that my writing was not just a whim, but a passion that could lead to something that would help our family. At the time, I was thinking financially, but now I look back, I was helping myself get through a tough time, which has ultimately helped my family more than any money ever would!
I did some small courses in writing for a larger audience through QWC, and just put my head down and bum up, and wrote hard. I had to break into a busy market of other Mum bloggers, but was able to find my voice and separate myself from the others by staying honest, mindful and authentic. Honesty was tough, because I was putting my feelings and thoughts out into the public for judgement but the response was far from judgemental – it was like-minded and thankful, and every single comment I received gave me more power and passion to keep on writing.
As soon as I knew I had an audience and proved that I could work hard and stay focussed on working from home and creating words I was proud to call my own, I found the confidence to self-publish my work into books. My husband was also proud and supportive of this venture, as were my children, who had all seen me working hard, and we knew I was in the right place.
How do you keep yourself motivated and disciplined?
Passion is my motivation, and as it hits me, I run with it, making my writing a spontaneous flurry of activity, followed by long silences when I don’t need to write. The discipline is easy – I love to write, so will do so any time the urge takes me. The trouble I have is being disciplined enough to STOP writing for long enough to tend to my family!
How do you manage your writing time with everything else you do? How has that changed from when you were starting out?
In the beginning, I wrote from 7.01pm (the minute my kids were in bed) until my forehead hit the keyboard at around midnight. I wrote when the children had naps, when they were watching ABC for Kids and when they were at school. Every minute I could – those were the early days of parenting small children, when my husband was very ill and I had to write to stay sane. I had a lot to say and I used those hours very effectively.
Now, I have changed my priorities completely – I no longer need my pen to soothe my troubles, as my troubles are few and far between. I face them more assertively now, and when I write, I write for love and joy. I write stories about happy days and moments with the children. I am jotting down ideas and thoughts for adventure stories and YA fiction that makes me smile – not a lot of angst-ridden questions about how to live life better these days, so I manage my writing time as a post-script and not the main event. Not so obsessive and much more reflective and positive. Perhaps not as interesting?
Where do you write? How do you arrange your working space?
I have a sunny veranda workroom which is divided up into sections for me and the children – my art, my writing and their mess-up-everything-they-can areas. I have about 6 metres of bench space, walls covered in colourful children’s artwork (and some of my own), photographs of people I love and shelves full of books. Lots and lots of books!
The shelf in front of me is filled with various journals – all with a different purpose and I have two computer screens so I can research on one screen and write on the other.
What are your essential writing tools?
A cuppa tea, a box of tissues, a pen that flows quickly to match the speed of my thoughts and just the right paper – always lined! Oh, okay – and a computer. I don’t just handwrite.
I like a comfy chair with back support and I dream of a quiet environment with no interruptions or distractions, and time. Lots and lots of time.
What’s the one thing you wish you’d known when you were starting out as a writer?
That I was suffering. The reason I was so passionate and prolific in my early days as a writer was because I was so unhappy. I didn’t realise that every word I wrote was a soothing balm for a troubled soul, and the day I stopped needing to write was probably the day when the struggle was over. I never asked myself why I wrote? I just had to do it.
I now ask people I mentor that question, right at the outset. Why do you write? What does it do for you? What do you want out of it?
I have always been brutally honest as a writer, and not everybody can be – it’s too confronting, which is why the question is so important, especially when writing memoirs. Often writing a memoir is a tumultuous walk through a very difficult period in one’s life – some go in barefoot and unprotected, having no idea that hot coals lay ahead for them; others go in fully shielded and never get where they need to go with their story.
Going in with eyes open about the reasons you’re doing it helps to protect you but doesn’t completely block out the oncoming pain and eventual salvation at the end of the project.
The happiest outcome of my writing journey to date is that I am now delighted to be teaching mindful journaling to adults and teens, creative writing to children in schools, and mentoring memoir writers at QWC! The processes worked so well for me and that is what I find so rewarding now – watching others taking up the pen to find their own courageous selves in words and pictures!
What do you read and how do you read as a writer?
I used to be a prolific reader as a child and adolescent, and at various times in my adult life.
When I’m unhappy, I read to escape. There have been times when I’ve been so unhappy, I’ve gone right back to my childhood to re-read those beloved tales with well-worn pages and relatable characters. A safe house for me, I guess.
When I’m happy, I read to learn and grow. The happier I am, the less fiction I read and the more learning I want to be doing, so I’ll read non-fiction ‘how-to’ books, websites or blogs. I love that I can still research any topic I’m currently interested in at a library or on the internet, and because I learned how to read and research as a youth, this is a joy for me and not a job.
I’m also going back to university next year, aged 46, to do a Bachelor of Creative Industries – to open my mind to new opportunities and knowledge, which will also enhance my current skill set as a writer and publisher of children’s writing.
The biggest problem I have had as a reader is having the skill of speed-reading. I went to classes as a teenager to help me study more effectively, which was very helpful at the time. Unfortunately, it became very difficult to turn off, and many wonderful fiction novels, each word written painstakingly by loving authors, have been wasted on me as I tear through them at a gallop, more interested on satiating my appetite that savouring the flavour.
When I read a great novel now, I try to read it slowly, even taking a pencil on the journey with me, to highlight phrases and metaphors that delight or affect me.
How do you overcome ‘writer’s block’?
Writers’ block comes to me when I am happy, or feeling ‘normal’ – level-headed, not high, not low. My truest and best words come from my passionate, angst-ridden or ecstatic self.
Writers’ block appears when I have to write content about subjects that I’m not passionate about, which can be a problem if I’m doing ‘dry’ work as a freelancer. I can pretty much write anything to a high standard, but my BEST work comes from the darkest and lightest places in me. For that, I must wait. It can’t be forced, but I have to be able to harness it when it arrives – I have to grab that pen and let the words take care of themselves.
The issue for me is that I don’t always have time to write when the feeling grabs me. I have started to jot down notes about the feelings and ideas for stories, because, like a dream that disappears into wisps of smoke the more you try to recall them, my feelings and thoughts about them often dissipate quickly.
Deadlines are my best friend (and worst enemy!). My panic button triggers intensity of feelings and I write very, very well under stress and fear of failure! NaNoWriMo was marvellous for that – I went like the clappers because I had deadlines and daily goals set by others. University does the same for me.
Due dates. Love them and hate them!
What one piece of advice would you give to aspiring writers?
Know yourself and try to recognise themes about yourself in the words you write. You might be surprised at what you find out!
Ask yourself why you write – it will help you to find your authentic voice.
Be aware that writing can bring up difficult feelings that you might need to address with a third party (e.g. a partner, close friend or family member or a counsellor).
Even if you’re writing children’s stories, the theme behind them will probably reflect your state of mind or a problem you’re managing, and it’s important to be aware of this. You might solve some of your own problems by the time you get to the end of your story, and it’s a wonderful moment of personal growth to acknowledge that moment!
If writing becomes a chore, stop writing and come back to it when you want to.
If you’re writing to become rich, keep writing and get a job.
Caylie Jeffery is a freelance writer and educator who consults on memoir and blog-to-book projects, self-publishing and social-media marketing, as well as creative writing and mindful journaling. Caylie’s essays, classes and workshops help both children and adults connect with their authentic voice, in a bid to keep their worlds right-side-up.