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.
I can relate! And I enjoyed the humor you used. I started writing after I retired and have tried different types of writing, too. I’m not sure if I’ll ever find the right outfit, or when I do if it will ever look quite right, but I enjoy writing.
I enjoy writing too. It’s wonderful to have time to explore different styles and genres.
I enjoyed this metaphor, Margaret!
Thanks Rachel. It’s exciting to see my words here.
Or you could tap into your sister’s expertise to figure out language more suited for the target age, and forge ahead with the subject matter because “inappropriate” is what Sendak did, and that worked out rather well for him.
I just published an article on my blog on reading (and writing) books for children. They are very sophisticated and can often understand words in context. The children’s author Katherine Rundell says she chooses words for flow and rhythm and ignores the advice of her publisher. And yes, my sister is wise!
I think it’s also generally wise to assume an adult reader is smart enough to follow the text—far better than assuming the reader is a bit stupid and must be led by the hand. Explain as little as possible and allow the reader to figure it out since they usually can.
Yes, I agree. I once had a friend who carried a tiny dictionary at all times. Now we can all consult our phones if we don’t know a word.
Good comparison. And like the clothes I buy for myself, not to impress anyone else, it’s the same with my writing. Just for me. If I wear an outfit that gets a complement, I’m pleased but don’t take it very seriously. Same with my writing. If someone likes what I wrote, I’m happy to have shared. That’s as far as my writing takes me.
It’s not worth trying to be all things to all people. Writing for yourself is a healthier approach.
Reblogged this on Margaret Moon and commented:
I’m excited to share the post I had published on the Brevity blog today.
This is fantastic, Marg. So you. Your voice. Which is funny and beautiful at the same time, and even more important, resonates with metaphor and truth. I feel so privileged to be your friend!!!
Loved the humor!
I liked this a lot, so relatable, but I was hoping for a happy ending…. Guess I’ll keep slogging on til something fits.
It’s an anticlimactic ending, but perhaps that’s the point. Maybe the most hopeful endings are always anticlimactic. Because implicitly they remind us that we haven’t reached out peak yet, we’re just getting starting and there is so much more to come…
[…] rarely do I hear a storyblog so brutally honest as this one by Ms. Moon. I’m relaying it to my readers who desire some sort of a knock-some-sense-in-me […]
Wow Marg, I love this. Story telling to explain perspectives and points of view is certainly your fortae. The story title, “The Has Beans” has captured my interest. Maybe you could write an adult version. Congratulations!
O’ that’s a beautiful imagination, Margaret! but despite how many outfits you might have tried, the simple yet all-fitting outfit of an ‘author’ might just become your all-weather go-to thing, who knows! I am sure you have tried it more than once. Now haven’t you? 🙂
I enjoyed the humour and the metaphor …. maybe you need a hybrid outfit : a crazy hat with a cool white suit and real leather gloves in an arresting colour … say chartreuse? or cerise?
Very much relate… including the editor outfit. Turns out I wasn’t in love with that one either (nor the development editor outfit–though I did do one book development project that was challenging, interesting but exhausting!). 😉 Hope you’ve found the perfect outfit with the perfect fit! But if your eyes wander again, that’s okay too. Enjoy the ride! 🙂
Truly excellent and so true, every word.