Here’s a confession. Whenever friends or family ask me what I’ve been up to, I lie. It’s usually a white lie, like I strung up all of Little James’ Pokemon cuddlies to the roof of the trampoline and faked their kidnapping note in blood to get him to exercise when he rescued them.

Whether or not I actually did kidnap my kid’s toys is irrelevant. The point is, I redirect the conversation away from what I’ve been actually doing. Which is writing. 

A lot. Like every spare moment of the day I can steal.

Over the years, I’ve worked out that people who are not writers don’t have much to say when you tell them you’re a writer. Sometimes, they’ll ask me when my novel is coming out. Or if they’ve asked me about my writing at the last catch-up, they’ll say ‘Are you STILL working on the same novel? What has it been now? Five years?’

Yes, five years and counting. Writing is a time-sink. 

So are other art forms like ballet, painting and playing the piano. What’s annoying is that I bet my sister who is a brilliant musician has never received a comment like ‘How long have you been playing the piano for now? Thirty years? When are you going to play at a concert hall?’ 

I don’t get how for some art forms, the value is in the process (like learning to play an instrument) while for other art forms, the value can only be in the exhibition of the work (like writing).
At one stage, I was a semi- decent pianist. I played two to three hours a day, and achieved my AMUS.A, which is an associate diploma for piano performance, when I was fifteen. The AMUS is one of those big-deal exams, where you only get a pass or fail grade, and you have to sit the exam in a haunted house, and if you make a mistake, you’re expected to commit the pianist version of hari kari which is death by slamming your head under the grand piano lid.  

Even though I hated playing the piano, I decided that this year I would approach my writing craft the same way I practised the piano. When I think about it, there are striking similarities between the two crafts.

  1. I have to turn up and glue my bum to the piano/computer seat and play/ write for a couple of hours every day. The difference is, I rarely jump up in the middle of playing a piano piece to check out what’s happening on Instagram. My aim is to achieve the same level of concentration when I sit down to write… 
  1. Warm up exercises. I start my piano practice with scales. I don’t jump in and start banging out Rachmaninov’s Prelude in C# minor. Likewise, I’m going to try and start each writing session with some writing exercises, instead of jumping into that complicated scene where my protagonist has to learn to drive a spacecraft with a handful of terrible physics terminology like quantum perspectofier which I got from a random word generator. 
  1. Take more professional writing lessons. Last year, I was having a mental struggle with whether or not to pay for an expensive mentorship at the Australian Writers Mentoring Program. I was doing okay with my writing but I was at the stage where I was ready to tackle Rachmaninov‘s prelude and I knew I didn’t have the technical chops to do this. I wrestled with the decision as I transferred money from my bank to pay for my son’s gymnastic classes… and then transferred more money to pay for his dancing lessons… and then chased him around the house to get him to sit down at the piano with me so I could give him his piano lessons…

And then it hit me.

I cheerfully drop at least $200 a month for extra-curricular classes for my son. Some of these classes require him to practise at home which is another whole level of effort. My parents must have spent thousands of dollars on piano lessons for my sisters and I, and not one of us are professional musicians. If I was to take writing lessons, no one would need to chase me around the house to get me to practise. I would be the BEST,  KEENEST student ever. Why is it that I feel so bad about investing money in myself, and yet I would drop money for classes my son doesn’t really need or want? 

After that light bulb moment, I contacted the Australian Writers Mentoring Program, and as I am writing this, I am in the middle of completing a second mentorship with the brilliant Margo Lanagan, and I haven’t looked back.

I think if I try and approach writing like playing the piano this year, I’ll cut myself some slack, enjoy the process more and not be always looking out for an end result. 

Here’s a little video I made of me playing the piano for fun –  I’d planned to practise the piece for a couple of months so I could play it perfectly before posting, then I realised that wasn’t the outcome I wanted. The outcome I wanted was just to play the piece of music this one time and record it and post it.