This series is based on an early short-story by Lorrie Moore called ‘How to Become a Writer’, a wry account of all the seemingly random events, choices and missteps that led a young woman to dedicate herself to a life of putting words on paper. This is a subject I’m fascinated by. Whenever I talk to authors, read their interviews or hear them speak, I’m struck by the enormous variety of routes there are to the same end-point.
There are those who come to writing through study, others are self-taught; some begin early while others are ‘late-bloomers’; some are lucky enough to find mentors, others go it alone; some begin as teachers, editors or in other word-related professions, others come from lives as accountants or sheep shearers. I take tremendous comfort in knowing there’s more than one way to pack a sack; that just because you haven’t done certain things (like gone to university), doesn’t mean you can’t become a writer; we must each find our own path to the writing life.
Kim Lock was born in 1981. She is the author of two previous novels, the internationally published Like I can Love, and Peace, Love and Khaki Socks. Her non-fiction has appeared in the Guardian, Daily Life, and the Sydney Morning Herald online. She lives in the Barossa Valley, South Australia, with her partner and their children, a dog and a couple of cats. Her latest novel is The Three of Us.
‘I grew up in a small country town. Not necessarily small in the sense of diminished population (actually, locals would be swift to rebut, Mount Gambier is the largest South Australian township outside of Adelaide), but small as in a little cliquey, and rather conservative.
When I was growing up, Art was something displayed in galleries and the town squares of capital cities. Literature, too, fell into that other-worldly, happens-elsewhere category.
I have always read. As a child I do not remember a time when I was not reading, and I read widely and insatiably. Books were a source of such enduring delight that they possessed a magical, almost unreachable quality: to read a book was sublime, to write one must be positively godlike. For that reason, while I always loved to write (my school report cards are a clichéd combination of Cs and the occasional D for Maths and Phys Ed, and As for English and Drama) I sincerely believed that writing books was for people far more cultured, more university educated – more Art – than small country town me.
Encouragement from a mentor
When I was eleven years old, my grade six teacher retired. I cried. At the end of Mrs Anderson’s last day, she asked me to wait a moment. When the classroom had emptied, she gave me a hug, looked me in the eye, and told me to keep writing.
I did. But never with any intentions for publication. Because Art.
Fifteen years later, my first baby was a few months old and I found myself adrift, and suffering. For the first time in my adult life I was not in paid employment. I was a freelance graphic designer but with a fussy infant, postnatal depression and a partner in the military I was able to take on barely any paid work. I no longer knew what to call myself.
A while later, a parenting magazine published a call-out for articles on personal experiences with breastfeeding a toddler. What did I have to lose? If nothing else, I told myself, it was something to do. (Besides breastfeeding the toddler.) I typed something up and sent it in.
Feedback from readers
They published it. A few weeks after the piece ran, the editor emailed and asked if I had written anything else. The response to my piece, the editor said, had been greater than anything they had ever received.
All right then, I thought. Maybe I’ll write a bit more.
Regular Writing Practice through Blogging
Following those first few magazine articles, I started a blog. My writing was sporadic, emotional; it was anecdotal accounts of life as a mother. Personal tumult effected my own deconstructions – patriarchy, the paradoxical oppression and idealisation of maternity, the subjugation of the female body – all that jazz. It was cathartic, but in hindsight what this writing taught me most valuably was to ‘hone the craft’. Over time, I learned to say in 900 words what had once taken me 2000. I learned that the words that rallied and stirred me could rally and stir others, too. And when I first had the terrifying experience of a blog post going viral, I allowed myself the tentative belief that maybe people did want to read what I wrote.
When my second baby was born, my partner took long service leave. For five months I found myself with the exceptional privilege of more time and freedom than I’d probably ever had – no school, no obligation to paid employment, and someone at home 24/7 to help look after the kids.
Space and time to write
So I wrote.
With a newborn strapped to my chest, I sat on a fit ball and out poured a novel. At first I simply wanted to do it – to finish a full length manuscript of fiction. Fiction: that glorious, dazzling world I had always revered. The first draft took me over a year. After a few revisions, I sent it to some friends. Thinking they would obligingly skim a few pages, say ‘good effort, Kim’ and set it aside, I was instead surprised by their enthusiasm. I was heartened by the fact that they read it, all the way to the end. They even liked it.
Learning the Craft
I realised that if I wanted to do this – be a writer – I needed to better understand writing. I needed some semblance of skill. I needed industry knowledge. I needed to make peace with working in Times New Roman. When I joined the SA Writers’ Centre and turned up for my first workshop – ‘Creating Compelling Characters’ – I entered that hushed, bookish space fearing that a red light would flash and an alarm would sound: Imposter.
Rejection and acceptance
My debut novel was rejected by every major publisher in Australia (and a few overseas). I had almost given up, until I found myself with two simultaneous offers of publication from small presses.
Ten years and three novels after that first magazine article, I wear the label of writer with equal parts reverence and hesitance. The devoted reader in me considers it too blasphemous; the Mount Gambian in me remains convinced that writers are someone else – divine creatures. Creators of Art.
Although, I do think Mrs Anderson might be proud of me.