Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Writing, blogging and personal obsession

I love writing. As a child, I used to dream of being a writer. My problem lay in the fact that I did not know where to start. Novels, the things I wanted to write, mystified me. How did you develop the plot? Did the characters just take over?

In those days there were none of the writers' festivals or writers' programs that today provide a guide to the craft. I read and read and read. The dark Russians, the strange French, the weird and wonderful world of Science Fiction, all passed through my mind. I read War and Peace at the same time as Enid Blyton.

Part of the desire to be a writer lay in a desire to join the varied, cosmopolitan and very different world that I saw more in writers themselves than the writing. I then put all this aside, apart from a period of wishing to write a novel set in the student world of the University of New England. Writing outside work seemed more like a student essay than a pleasure.

The next time that I started writing independently of direct work demands lay in a combination of work and politics.

You can take the boy out of academia, but you cannot take academia out of the boy.

At Treasury I was trying to build a new area, I was also trying to build the reputation of my area and people relative to the two macro-economic divisions that dominated the Treasury skyline. I took great pride, I still do, in how well my staff did. I wrote policy papers, encouraged others to do so, and held a series of seminars. Outside Treasury, my political involvement meant that I was writing other policy papers as well as newsletters and articles.

Then came another gap. This time the trigger to start writing was my decision to enroll in an external PhD, although writing did really take over until I went to Armidale on a full time basis. My now traditional writing style was short sentences, short paras, keep it as simple as possible.

This was not necessarily right for a biography. I experimented with new forms: longer sentences using colons and semi-colons. Always I read stuff out to test sound. When I first returned, reluctantly, to Canberra to take up my official duties again, I was determined to be a writer.

I kept writer's diaries. I wrote notes and descriptions on visits to Parliament House or to the many factories I saw. Now I decided to write a thriller centred in Australia and on the aerospace industry.

I had a mass of raw material. I looked at the words and interactions in Defence Inter-Departmental Committees. I read the cable traffic, looking at the structure and words. I read the secret reports, looking at the way they were structured.

I visited factory after factory in Australia and overseas, talking to senior management but also looking at incidental details such as the security checks, the structure of the offices, the language used. I studied the factory lines, collected material on particular products such as composites, tried to understand how the firms worked. I flew in helicopters and saw the first satellite ever brought back from space.

Time passed and I put this dream aside because of the need to resume professional writing. Again I wrote a lot outside work, but it was still professionally directed. The writer's diaries themselves were lost in a move.

It was not until I started blogging that the old writing addiction, hidden all that time, really grabbed. Now I cannot stop. Blogging is not the addiction, writing is. I go to bed at night thinking about writing. I wake up in the morning in the same position.

I am, finally, hopelessly addicted. I do not think that there is a cure!


Anonymous said...

I'll let you know how the 12-step program goes, Jim... I'm also enrolling in the template-changers obsessive-compulsive support group. There may be hope...

Jim Belshaw said...

Thank you Neil.If the "template-changers obsessive-compulsive support group" can achieve an effect, there is indeed hope!

Lexcen said...

Jim, I too had aspirations to write a great novel. The more books I read, the more I realize that everything had been said and done before.
Good luck with Bloggers Anonymous.

Jim Belshaw said...

Hi Lexcen. The true addict does not worry about whethet things have been done before, just the doing. My problem is that even if I were cured of blogging, the writing addiction would simple take new forms!