I don’t think I really have much of a choice in the matter. Writing is something I’ve always done; it’s how I make sense of myself and the world. I LOVE stories. I love making them up, sharing them, reading them, hearing them. Stories are an excellent energy source; we don’t privilege, acknowledge or celebrate their power enough.
How did you come to writing?
It’s the one thing I’ve always done. It is second nature. When I was young I’d write long-winded journal entries, stories and poems and share them with anyone who’d listen. When I was a teenager, writing was an escape – I’d pen melodramatic romance novels and share them with no one. Later I started writing plays and for theatre and then long-form fiction. I don’t think I’ll ever be a writer or artist who’ll be able to have one career descriptor. I’m a multi-passionate story-teller. Words are my thing, though; they’re how I make sense of the world.
What were your greatest obstacles starting out? How did you overcome them?
Courage. Being courageous enough to write, to call myself a writer, to share my writing, to get out of my own way and just do it. It’s scary doing what you love. The stakes feel so high because you care about it so much. But the alternative, the not doing it, that’s far scarier. I think recognising that the map I have in my head, or the tick-boxes that sit next to achievements that I think I need to accomplish to legitimise my artistry, is actually bullshit. To be a writer, you need to write, that’s it. I think having the courage to stop comparing myself or my pathway to other writers I respect and admire is also a thing to overcome. Stay in your own lane.
How do you keep yourself motivated and disciplined?
Passion can only drive you so far. I’ve often got to have very terse words with myself about sitting my ass down in the chair and just getting it done. Collaborating with my co-writer, David Burton, is good for this; we keep each other accountable. He’s my best mate. I don’t want to let him down. I meet the deadlines that we set. I realised that I need to be that person for myself too. Set deadlines or word limits and find what’s good for you.
When I’m excited about a project I’ll make myself write at least 1000 words a day. It was revelatory to me to do some maths and work out that if I wrote 1000 words a day, for 60 days, that’d be 60,000 words, and that’d be a solid first draft. Which seems so simple and obvious when it’s written down like that, but that was a grand moment of realisation for me. Just a thousand words a day. Easy. They don’t need to be good, they just need to be down, future you can worry about whether they’re good or not. Elizabeth Gilbert does that great bit about the best novels in the world being written in an hour a day. That’s nice to keep in mind.
I think it’s also good to let things marinate and give yourself time away from projects or ideas. I didn’t really write with much discipline at all for the first six months of 2016. But I had a notes document in my phone that I’d just jot ideas, or sentences or plot points in when I felt compelled. When I finally felt ready to start writing with some purpose again, and I opened that document on my phone, I realised I’d accidentally written 6000 words of a thing without much effort.
How do you manage your writing time with everything else you do? How has that changed from when you were starting out?
I like to think about things in energy – and the energy they take to do. If we only have so much energy in a day, where do I want to be giving that energy, to what projects? I live a pretty random creative life; some projects take up more energy at certain times. The older I get, the better I get at knowing what I need and cutting myself some slack. I used to just write when I felt inspired. I didn’t mind slowly plodding along with things. Now I have deadlines it’s a little different. I try and write, or think about something I’m writing, every single day.
Where do you write? How do you arrange your working space?
I’ll write anywhere. I do have an office with a standing desk. My phone is a magical trove of initial ideas and opening sentences. I keep voice recordings because lots of good ideas happen in the car, too.
What’s the one thing you wish you’d known when you were starting out as a writer?
I’d tell myself that there is nothing to scared of, to do what you love, to write what you love. I’d need a reminder to not let those shitty things that occur be the thing that finally sparks your drive. Don’t wait to be reminded that life is short. Make and write and create the stuff that only you can.
What do you read and how do you read as a writer?
I go through periods of time where I devour book after book and then I won’t read anything for months. I wish I was one of those consistent daily practice readers, but my brain doesn’t work that way. I am an all-in kind of reader. Audio books have also revolutionised my capacity to consume books – and I love them. I’m currently in some kind of apocalyptic Young Adult and a strong lady memoir trend; that’s pretty much all I’ve read this year, actually.
How do you overcome ‘writer’s block’?
I think it’s about being kind to yourself. Letting things ruminate and getting excited about them and cutting yourself some slack.
What one piece of advice would you give to aspiring writer?
Write all of the things, all of the time. If you feel compelled to write then you have a global responsibility to do it, because no one else in the history of the planet will be able to write your thing the way that you will and if you don’t do it, that’s pretty bloody selfish.
Claire Christian is a writer, blogger, pod-caster (Ask Pew!Pew!), youth arts facilitator and theatre maker. Her debut novel Beautiful Mess won the 2016 Text Publishing Text Prize. Her plays Talking to Brick Walls, Hedonisms Second Album and The Landmine is Me are available through Playlab. You can follow her adventures at claireandpearl.com.