Thursday, November 24, 2011

Jason Nahrung on Writing Joys and Frustrations

Jason Nahrung has been a newspaper journalist for more than two decades. He's also a fiction editor, judge of speculative fiction, and writer of darkly themed tales including the supernatural thriller, The Darkness Within. Today, Jason muses on the joys and frustrations of being a writer.

It’s not you, it’s us.

It has been an ... interesting past couple of months. My wife, Kirstyn, has been devoting every spare moment to her novel – by coincidence, her publisher’s deadline coincides with our departure for a wee break. And I’ve had a self-imposed deadline, knowing it will be good for my morale to be able to go away and leave my agent with the latest iteration of the novel I’ve been trying to get right for more than 10 years. This time, please Writing Gods, may it all make sense...

All of which means we’ve been fairly anti-social. I’ve stayed in partly out of sympathy, not wanting my wife to feel like some kind of pariah while I’m off gallivanting around the country. Plus, it’s a great excuse for me to stay home and be indulgent: a short story here, that pesky novel mostly there.

So why the guilt?

Why the compulsion to explain in rigorous details about publishers and deadlines and day jobs and available time and word counts? Why the compulsion to apologise?

After all, if I said we weren’t attending some soiree or event because I had to train for the grand final, there’d be nothing but words of encouragement. If I said I was pulling serious over-time because the office was understaffed, there’d be nods of knowing understanding. But not doing something because you’re writing? In my case, without even a deadline? Without even the certainty of a pay packet at the end of it?

What sort of alien must I be?

Writing is, after all, at my level of the vocation, something to be fitted in around the day job. Around life. You pay the bills, you catch up with the people you care about, you be entertained ... and then you write.

I hate that I am so used to the arts not mattering that I automatically become defensive when explaining how I’ve made my art, if I may be high-falutin’ for a moment and call what I do art (hm, is that that defensiveness coming in? It’s a nice story, dahlink, but is it art?), a priority. How, like sport, it needs to be practised and trained for; how, like a day job, it needs regular attention and commitment. How, sometimes, especially towards the end of a project, it can require a degree of sacrifice. No telly. No cinema. No gigs (no gigs!).

You can take it too far, just as you can with sport and your career. You can sacrifice the enjoyment of life, the company of friends and family, for a supposedly loftier goal, and therein lies the risk of a pyrrhic victory. But sometimes, you have to give in order to get – sometimes, the enjoyment of life means having to give something up – even if those around you might not understand.

Fortunately, most of our friends and family do. Without that acceptance, it’d make the job that much harder. It’s important, I think, if you’re going to snub someone, that they understand exactly why; that they know that the job’s important – not more important, just, at this moment, important enough to skip lunch.

I have to take my hat off to Kirstyn. I don’t know how she can work her day job and then switch over for a six-hour writing stint, night after night. By knock-off time, my eyes are dripping out of my skull, the keyboard is an arcane thing, but there she sits, crafting, crafting, crafting. Occasionally fending off the cat, who hasn’t had lap time for, like, forever.

I’m looking forward to going out once more. I’m looking forward to our holiday. I’m looking forward to seeing Kirstyn’s book upon the shelf, and maybe mine, too (please Writing Gods, this time...?). Bear with us, gentle friends; we will return to the scheduled program, right after these messages... but I’m trying not to apologise for the interruption. I’m sure you’ll understand.

Jason Nahrung's only novel, The Darkness Within, can be difficult to find these days (you can try the Book Depository UK), but he's got a bunch of short stories out this year in various Australian anthologies, and a couple due out next year, too. Track him down Kirstyn McDermott's debut novel, Madigan Mine, came out last year. She's almost finished her second novel, working title Perfections. Almost. You'll hear the  shout of joy first at

Thanks, Jason. A timely reminder that (believe it or not) we writers are people like everyone else. Well, except that we can go to work in our underwear and have afternoon naps by the fire, ha! Beat that, commuting work slaves!

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