Dear 17-year-old Natalie,
You were right, it was unfair of your teacher to expect you to write a story without offering basic instruction.
FYI, she didn’t know how to. And yes, the teachers were too stupid or biased to realise that those they were giving good marks to were recycling plots and elements from Red Dwarf.
You will realise this when you do your first year of your Bachelor’s degree and receive very encouraging feedback on a journal piece. Armed with that, you will start working on your first unpublished novel. I say unpublished, because I don’t count spending large sums of money on a vanity press, published.
Fortunately, you will only make that mistake once.
Another mistake you will make only once is to send off a poorly edited piece of writing. That was embarrassing.
You will spend the next ten years writing four novels that no-one will publish, despite your best efforts. You will learn how to write synopses, cover letters, how to approach agents and publishers, receive some encouraging rejections, and grow as a writer.
You will also read, a lot. And learn that your day job of teaching is incompatible with your need to write. You will start to arrange your life around providing yourself with writing space. You will find that extended periods away from creative practice leaves you stressed and depressed.
After ten years of independent writing, you will decide that if you are going to take your writing seriously, you will need help.
Help comes in the form of a Masters of Writing from Swinburne University of Technology, through Open Universities. You will take twenty-one months immersing yourself in writing and literary theory. You will learn to compose onto the computer, rather than having to laboriously transcribe your handwritten first draft.
This is a godsend and why didn’t you learn this sooner?
You will learn how to access flow thinking, and no longer rely on rituals or inspiration to help trigger writing.
You will learn that you are not an auto-ethnographic writer, and that there is nothing wrong with that.
You will make friends and gain confidence.
You will learn that among your tool kit is an ability to see the structure of a piece of writing, as if it were the mechanical workings of a clock, and diagnose what has gone wrong.
You will not be afraid to rip out the plumbing of a story and start again, when you discover a leak, rather than papering over the cracks and hoping that the water doesn’t seep through.
You will move from an unpublished writer to a nearly published writer by the time you are finished.
You will also begin to read Australian literature. I know, I know, you think it is all blokes, and bush and has nothing to say to you. But you have been reading the wrong writers.
It’s not your fault, Australian publishers have a terrible habit of allowing writer to drop out of print and never see the light of day again. Nor was school or even university much help, you will have to find them on your own. You will love Elizabeth Harrower, and shocking as it sounds your favourite will be the grand old man of Australian letters, Patrick White. This will be very important in your transition from unpublished to published writer, learning how to write your own country. It will also allow you to finally feel that you belong in your homeland.
E-books will capture your imagination and allow you to begin publishing an e-Journal for beginner writers, The Wild Goose Literary e-Journal. After a few years and much experience in working with other writers, you will found your own press: Black Cockie Press. Inspired by Virginia and Leonard Woolf and the Hogarth press, as well as the 18th century pamphleteers, you will find new and interesting writing, which thanks to digital technology you will be able to publish quickly and easily.
You will learn how to publish books by experimenting on yourself, before soliciting for writers. In two years, not only will you have moved into print publication, but you will have three other authors on your books.
It turns out your experience teaching has taught you a lot about how to relate to others; you enjoy working with people, just not classroom management. You will take your vast array of interpersonal skills, and teaching experience and use it to teach writing.
You will meet writers who would once have intimidated you, hand them your card and watch a smile spread across their faces as you ask them to submit to your journal.
I know it seems like a long road to publication, but you will get there in the end.
Natalie Muller is an author, teacher and founder of Black Cockie Press and The Wild Goose Literary e-Journal, an online journal for new Australian writing. She is a Master of Arts in Writing from Swinburne University of Technology. Poisoning the Nest is her first novel. Find Natalie here: