The Writer in the Changing Room
December 17, 2021 § 24 Comments
By Margaret Moon
Trying to become a writer is like trying on lots of new outfits to see what suits you. You start with what’s fashionable but quickly realise that the skirt is too short for your knobbly old knees and the colour is all wrong for your complexion. No matter how much you squint or look sideways at yourself in the mirror, you can’t take off the forty pounds you gained sitting at a computer writing business reports for the last thirty years and you can’t fool yourself that you look great.
One by one the dresses you’ve taken into the changing room end up on the ‘not for me’ rack outside the cubicle, hanging limply with their necklines askew and their sleeves inside out. Clothes that look appealing on the mannequin feel scratchy and uncomfortable. You begin to despair of ever finding a garment that makes you feel nice and perhaps a little bit special.
Finding your new writing persona is equally hard. “Memoirist” looks like a good fit until you realise that your life hasn’t been very eventful and perhaps there’s no real story to be told. You start writing an essay called “Not Enough Trauma” and realise that you’re still carrying around the remnants of a hurt and confused teenager. Poor girl. You feel sorry for her, but you also know that if she hasn’t transformed into a butterfly or gone to Oxford, then there’s probably no market for her story.
You try on an outfit called “children’s author.” It looks delightful on the rack. The sundress is bright yellow and comes with a floppy sunhat, a blowsy artificial rose pinned to the band. You write a story about some old veggies stuck in the bottom of the fridge who start a band called the ‘Has Beans” and it makes you laugh so you send it to your sister. She agrees that it’s hilarious and tells you that you should try to get it published. Although your sister was a teacher librarian for her whole career, she also loves you, so you send it to a published children’s author for a second opinion. She tells you that the language is too complex for a six-year-old and that the subject matter is inappropriate. It goes in the bottom drawer in case fashions change, and there’s suddenly a market for a book about a zucchini who can’t sing in tune.
You don’t bother trying on the “fiction writer” trousers because you have no imagination. You didn’t spend your childhood scribbling stories because you were too busy reading, reading, reading. You were never seen without a book. Even when you were washing the dishes there’d be a hardcover propped open across the taps.
You contemplate becoming an editor. You look longingly at the outfit, which is elegant in its simplicity, with just the right amount of flair. But is it too sophisticated for you? Will people laugh and think you’ve got tickets on yourself? Does it cost too much?
The material is soft against your skin, but the label is scratchy. You decide to take it home for a while to see if it suits you. You order every book on drafting and revision that you can find, and you start reading. Maybe one day that outfit will fit you perfectly.
Margaret Moon is a blogger and lifetime learner. She lives an hour north of Sydney, Australia. During her career, she has edited web copy, learning material, slide decks, evaluation reports and television documentaries, and is now honing her skills as a book editor. You can find more of her writing here.