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Sunday, 13 December 2015

On writing

Yesterday the Guardian republished on its website a story by author Harper Lee that had first appeared in 1961, the year before I was born. In the story, Lee is staying with a New York family over Christmas and she receives a special gift - of a year off work, to pursue her writing - from the young couple, who also earn their living by writing. Lee calls it a "gift of love". In the year thus endowed - away from the stresses and demands of full-time work - Lee wrote the two novels that have made her famous.

But I wonder how a year can be enough for anyone to find a voice and produce something of value, especially if the writer in question has not been applying herself to the task on an ongoing basis for some time already.

For myself, the writing project has been going for over 20 years. It started in 1992 when I moved with my family to Tokyo to start work in an English-language PR unit in a high-tech manufacturing company. (I still dream about those days, in fact I had a dream about them last night amid the pains of what has turned out to be a UTI. The infection in the kidneys makes it painful to lie down after about 5am, then it goes away.)

I worked in Tokyo doing desktop publishing and my manager also got me to write stories for internal communications publications the company produced for global distribution. We also made sales and marketing brochures. The most fun of the stories we wrote, from my point of view, were the application stories: stories about successful applications of the technologies the company made. Each story would start with some backgrounding of the type of facility within its specific market. I remember especially a long special feature I wrote about automation and controls applied in the automobile manufacturing industry. The feature appeared across three pages in one month's issue of the corporate magazine, Savemation.

After I returned to Australia I worked as a technical writer and web developer - a strange combination it might seem, but I not only wrote scripts for software usage but also designed and built the HTML platform the documents are delivered to users on. Technical writing is a fairly demanding profession, and involves imagining the use of software from the point of view of the person who is to use it in the run of their daily business. I worked at this job for a number of years before going back to university part-time to study media.

Following completion of a year of journalism study, my managers allowed me to write application reports for the new organisation, but after an organisational reshuffle in 2008 I was taken off that beat and shifted into the training department.

Meanwhile, I had started this blog at the same time I started study, in early 2006. It began hesitantly and the first few years of writing were very limited in scope and aspiration. In fact I began to understand that I had a lot to learn about the profession of writing. Even after completing the media degree I went back to a private school and did a course in feature writing, so uncomfortable I was with the form. But eventually I moved, following another reshuffle, during which my position at the organisation was made redundant, to freelancing as a journalist.

I continued to learn and I continued to write on the blog. It took time to develop a style that was flexible enough to enable me to say just about anything I wanted to say. I have to say, now that I have been blogging for a decade, I am starting to feel more comfortable with my technique. It feels, now, that there is little that I cannot attempt on the blog, although sometimes I do wonder what it would be like to write something longer and more sustained - a novel or long essay, for example. Time will tell. We'll see what happens when the paywall goes up, which will probably happen in the new year.

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