A few weeks ago, during my usual quiet writing time, I had the image of an iceberg come to me when I started thinking about the stories I am working on. I know the iceberg image is a cliché, so often used to talk about the things that are visible on the surface compared to what lies unseen beneath the water. I suddenly started wondering,
What deep, unseen stories do I have lying beneath the surface of what I can see in myself right now?
And that question’s quietly been on my mind ever since. Every year, normally at the start, I reflect on what it means to be writer. I look back at the year that was and sigh with relief and gratitude at how I’ve grown and developed in my craft. And this year, after a mini-bout of burnout, a real holiday and some solid naps, something feels different.
Imagine that the visible tip of my iceberg is Before, mainly referring to the last 3-4 years since I started my ‘real’ writer journey. And the unseen mass underneath the water is 2021.
So, here’s how I’m feeling…
I’ve spent so much time writing stories at Tier 1, most of them sparked by my frustration of not seeing similar stories to mine on mainstream Australian TV or bookshelves. I’ve also spent a lot of time telling the story of those stories — why they’re important to me, how they came to be and what I’m doing with them. These stories have always started autobiographical and slowly morphed into fiction — a delicious process in itself, but I’ve often felt limited by what I could mine from my life for inspiration.
Then in 2020, a friend gave me The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, and my eyes were opened. I spent twelve weeks rediscovering my creative self and I played, experimented and learnt new things about stories I didn’t know were hiding in me. 2020 was the year I caught glimpses of my Tier 2 stories and they tickled me.
One prime example is that one month, I set myself a creative writing challenge where each day, I would find a writing prompt online and write 500 words on that topic, no matter how random and obscure it seemed. I was blown away by the words that flowed out of me. I didn’t know they were there. They had essences of me, but they were not about me. They were magical, imaginative, funny, dangerous and mysterious. Writing those 30 stories created a new rhythm in me that I didn’t know was possible. I also challenged myself to write those 500 words, before I jumped back into writing my novel or social media captions. I felt lighter and it was easier to just write, even with a tenacious toddler in the middle of a pandemic. I was writing more consistently and better than I had in a long time.
It actually scared me a little.
But then I started looking at my old stories with new eyes. I was ready to discard the bland final versions, pitches and drafts that I once thought were perfect. I started playing with them with Tier 2 eyes and WOAH! That’s where I am sitting right now — it’s exhilarating and delicious and freeing. I am enjoying the challenge of weaving more imagination into my stories, and finally putting those 100s of writing courses, talks and books I’ve binged over the years to very specific use as needed.
Everything feels different. I am not the same and neither are these stories.
Before, I had a weird fear of letting my Tier 1 stories go. I didn’t want to share them, or option them for fear other people would show them (and subsequently me) wrong. My Tier 1 stories were mine, special to me because they were about me and a part of me. And me, me, me. *snore*
But now, in 2021, I feel a deep excitement to find my Tier 3 and 4 stories. The ones, inspired by everything I’ve learnt and am still learning and the things I will never know. Funnily enough, those are the stories I want to share freely with the world. Those are the ones I think will have deep, transformative power. But those are the stories that will take time and stillness to really listen to. They’re really not about me. Accepting that I’m the conduit is so freeing and I feel less fear about everything to do with getting the stories out.
What I know for sure is that each story takes its own time to surface, and I have to honour that. I can’t rush these words like I used to. Before, I was in an impatient hurry for the world to hear me. But now, in 2021, I crave silence and to drown in never-ending quiet time. Quiet, glorious time. Glorious, quiet time.
That’s what my stories really need for me to hear them.