How to Become a Writer: Mark Simpson

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.

Mark Simpson, author of Light Up the World

Mark Simpson is an inspirational speaker and writer committed to raising personal and collective consciousness. He is also a yoga and meditation teacher who encourages transformation, healing and awareness. His work invites and supports individual and organisational growth and visionary leadership that is based on compassion, kindness, empowerment and inclusiveness. He is the author of Light Up the World, a collection of poetry and prose to inspire new ways of being in ourselves and in the world. His book is full of wisdom and insight to support our awakening and live more deeply connected and empowered lives. I had the pleasure of meeting Mark at Big Sky Festival and attending his workshop which gave me a lot of food for thought.

“As we all know, there are as many paths to becoming a writer as there are writers. We all have our own journey. Mine was not through any particular sense of how to ‘get there’ or how it might look. If anything, the process has been a deconstruction of ideas about how it should be and following something deeper and uncovering a sense of authentic expression.

I have an early schooldays memory of staring at a blank page on being asked to write something spontaneously, an inner voice asking, “Where do I even start?”

Reading for Pleasure

I ‘learned to write’ as a fortunate part of a fairly traditional education which ultimately led to qualifying as a lawyer. Vocabulary, grammar and structure were developed in responses to questions which, in the last days of handwritten exam papers, meant there was lots of practice. It was all very mind-based though and it certainly wasn’t creative writing – at least in the sense I now think of it.

For the most part, I didn’t enjoy English at school nor was it ever really framed as a means of creative expression.

Fortunately, I have come to love reading as an adult and the self-directed adventure of learning and reading for pleasure has become a treasured resource for my own writing.

An Inner Quest

Skipping forward through twenty years of the corporate space and its own style of writing, I found myself torn between two worlds. My inner world of very different ethics and a growing path of self-inquiry contrasted with an outer world and socially sanctioned view of success built on materialism, status and limitation.

After making some big life choices including closing the door to the world as a corporate employee, I started on something of an inner quest for personal and universal truths. That journey led me to training as a yoga teacher and participating in Zen Buddhist and energy healing retreats learning how to take care of my body, spirit and mind in a more supportive and nourishing way.

Writing to Make Sense of Experience

As part of that process of self-inquiry, growth and realisation, I started writing to make sense of some deep experiences that were in my being at various different levels – some wonderful, and some incredibly challenging. Though I’d always been drawn to the lyrical and poetic (I love Neil Finn and Rumi), I was surprised to find the words often came out rhyming and with a natural sense of meter. Most of my poems arrived pretty much fully formed and usually after either particularly beautiful moments of insight or vivid lived experiences of deeply unconscious material. I used writing as a primary tool to make sense of what was going on as part of a process of inner transformation when I couldn’t articulate experiences in other ways.

I came to realise there is a part of me that has a sense of connection to, and an ability to express, what is in my heart far more than what is on my mind.

It’s as if the writing and words come from a deeper place altogether. Ultimately it is an aspect of the difference between head and heart. I think we all know it in ourselves when we write, speak, read or hear words that have come from that space.

Early last year I realised I had a collection of poems that fitted into a narrative arc of personal and collective transformation. Knowing I had more to say about what they pointed to, I began writing short pieces of prose to fill out their meaning and make them more tangible and accessible. I hope what I have written encourages others to find a deeper sense of self and a heart-based approach to life. Beyond that there is an invitation to consider what that means for our inner and outer worlds.

 

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Self-Publishing

It took six months of fairly intensive work (with plenty of help) to get from having a collection of poems to a completed book. The result is Light Up the World – Inspiration for a New Humanity.

LUTW is self-published and that has been by choice. I have, however, been very careful to make sure that it is of the same standard and high quality as any book produced by a leading publisher. I used a platform called Reedsy to access industry professionals to edit, proofread and do the layout and design work and I’m very happy with how LUTW looks and feels.

I’ve also had a degree of creativity and control over the final product which I value.

It’s my writing and authentic expression in a form that I’m both proud of and is true to the initial vision I had when I realised there was a book coming together. The self-published route is a journey of its own with some steep learning and blind alleys and that continues for me, particularly with regard to marketing and promotion.

I had no real idea at the outset just how much time and effort it would take, nor of how much time I would spend on things that ultimately turned out to be unimportant.

I definitely got side-tracked in the idea of being a writer and false notions of success instead of sticking to what I wanted to create. Some of those ideas and dreams are to be enjoyed and some can be quite distracting and poisonous to the process. Learning the difference has been one of the big challenges.

Connecting with readers

All of that said though, the true gift of writing for me has been the freedom to express a deeper part of myself and also to try and touch that space in others. In a world of superficiality and distraction I think we are starved of possibilities that exist within ourselves for inquiry, creative self-expression and insight. By offering something that speaks to those deeper places within, I have enjoyed conversations with readers that are genuinely beautiful and touching. For those exchanges alone, the whole process has been more than worth it. As LUTW finds its way in the world, it is those moments that are truly the gift that keeps on giving.

My path to becoming a writer has been more of a journey to finding something deeper in myself and then giving voice to that. I’m pretty sure that’s true for most people that write (at some level at least). There’s a quality to work that comes from that inner space that is more authentic and empowering.

While I know we all have our own reasons to write and stories to tell (and they are all valid), for me, writing has been both a comfort and an inspiration for the journey.

Hopefully it encourages others towards positive change and self-expression too.

Lifelong Learning

As with the inner journey, I know I will never stop learning about writing and all the different elements that are at play. The challenges and changing landscape make it more interesting and new opportunities to improve or come to a better understanding arise constantly. I’ve found some wonderful fellow travellers and teachers out there too, all of whom have given me the encouragement to continue to ‘become a writer’.

The empty page is now much less daunting and I see it for the possibility it presents for exploration, creation and sharing our insights – just like each of us.”

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Annabel Smith is the author of US bestseller Whiskey & Charlie (published in Australia as Whisky Charlie Foxtrot), digital interactive novel/app The Ark, and A New Map of the Universe, which was shortlisted for the West Australian Premier’s Book Awards. I am currently working on Monkey See, an epic quest with a sci-fi twist featuring a monkey, an evil priestess and the mother of all tsunamis.

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