Shannon Meyerkort is a West Australian author with a focus on historical fiction and finding meaningful real-life stories that can be turned into narratives. She has written several prize-winning short stories and is currently working on one two three novel manuscripts and a book-length project about dyslexia. She also regularly contributes to a number of blogs and websites and was awarded a place on the 2020 Four Centres Emerging Writers Program. When she has time, which isn’t often, she also writes stories for her dyslexic daughter. Here she writes a letter to her future published self.
Dear Shannon, some years in the future,
Writing was never meant to be a career.
Despite an honourable mention in the Year 4 book writing competition, writing for a living was not something you ever considered. It was too fluffy, too intangible. Mum was a teacher. Dad was a scientist. They never had to explain their jobs to people, they never had to justify how they spent their time.
And now I am writing to you, my future self, with published books and an established career and I know you still have to justify yourself to others. I know you’re feeling more pressure and a lot of the unfettered joy of writing is gone.
So, I am here to remind you of the reason why you started writing in the first place, just in case you’re beginning to agree with those people who said writing wasn’t a proper job.
Although writing was never meant to be a career, you chose jobs that honed your writing skills. There was the decade working in the universities doing social and health research: you didn’t realise it at the time, but the years spent observing people, listening to how they spoke and interacted with each other, it was all just background research for becoming a writer.
Then when the babies started arriving, and your short-term memory disappeared faster than your waistline, you started writing stories about the relentlessness of parenting. Writing funny little anecdotes so you would have a permanent record of the early years wasn’t meant to be a career either, but you soon found yourself with a blog and being asked to write some of those stories for books and magazines. There was never any money in it though, even when one of those posts went viral and was read by millions of people around the globe. No money = not a proper job.
Writing as a job wasn’t even considered until you went to see the career counsellor. After months of psychometric testing and looking at your qualifications and skills she came up with two likely options: one being a writer. You’d paid lots of money for her professional opinion. Did that mean you’d just wake up the next morning and be a writer?
It didn’t quite happen like that though, did it?
She had warned you that a career in writing would be a patchy affair, like a drawer of odd socks. She said:
‘Shannon, remember that your life as a writer will be like a jigsaw puzzle, with lots of pieces that all fit together to form the picture of your career. Some pieces will pay well, others you will write for the love of it, some pieces will satisfy you, others will just be ‘work’. Over time the puzzle will grow and the picture will form, but you will always have many different elements to your writing life.’
She was absolutely correct, and over the next few years you began to add pieces to the puzzle. You established an online presence writing for sites like WeekendNotes and Perth Mums Group. You wrote short stories. You did historical pieces. You authored children’s books. You penned magazine articles. You did a Grad Dip in Professional Communication. You wrote about a million blog posts.
It wasn’t until 2017 that you decided to dip your toe in deeper waters. My god that water felt good, parched by everything you had done before, and with a new thirst for writing novels.
Between 2017 and 2020 you wrote three books, falling in love over and over with your characters and the city you live in. Perth was the setting for all three novels, which spanned a century from 1912 to 2020 and you immersed yourself in the research of five different decades, loving every single moment of it.
Shannon of the future, I want you to think back to how you felt about writing in 2020.
As the pandemic laid waste to lives and livelihoods, while the world was imploding around you, you gained joy from the simple act of writing. You felt so alive, so happy, you needed to hide it from the people around you, cautious of being seen as too happy in an era of trauma. But you were on fire, lit from within, with a momentum that seemed unstoppable.
After years of writing for others, for the first time you were writing for yourself. There were no accolades, no publishing deals, no prizes. That came later. But that year, when so many other things stopped, you really got started. I need you to remember how good that felt. You were dependent on no one but yourself, and you were perfectly happy.
Everyone warned you that getting your first book published wouldn’t be as life-changing as you would hope. Everyone talked about the second-book slump, the stress of deadlines, the self-doubt that came with rejection. Future Shannon, I’m worried that it might all become too much for you.
So I’m here to give you a gift. And that is to remind you that writing is its own reward. Henry Miller said it first, but I’m saying it to you:
Remember the joy you get from writing, the satisfaction you feel when the words come together in a perfect sentence, the tears that prick the back of your eyes when you read back your own work and realise you were lost in the story. That’s all you need. The rest is just icing on the cake, but if you become dependent on it, you will quickly lose your taste for writing.
Shannon of the future, the one with published books and an actual career, I can’t wait to be you, but until then, I am happy just writing.
Writing was never meant to be a career? Well, we showed them.
Shannon Meyerkort of August 2020
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