27 February 2015

Guest post: How author Maree Miller defines success as a writer

Where I am in my Writing Career
Early stages of my next novel. I studied an anthropology major, and so I’m drawn to historical fiction exploring different cultural perspectives. This sort of stuff is research intensive, but it’s what gives me tingles down the spine - which means I'll probably stick with it for a while.

What being a Successful Writer Means to Me
Well obviously once I am so rich from the bajillions of books I plan to sell I can employ a slew of ghost writers. Then I will spend my days perched on gold throne.

I won't have to do a thing, apart from give the occasional direction.




In all seriousness, success is for the individual to know. For me, success in writing means balancing life so that I still have time to achieve writing goals. Churning out a novel while working full time feels successful.  

Will My Idea of Success Change Over Time?
It already has!

In the fifth grade our teacher often asked us to write stories (seriously - how sweet was life back then?!). I would finish my story, hand over my exercise book, and return to my seat. And I would watch her. She would place my book at the top of the marking pile and read my story first. And this happened a lot. One day she admitted to enjoying my writing so much that she would automatically jump it to the front of the queue because she couldn't wait to read my next story.

And so as a fifth grader, I felt like a pretty successful writer.

In senior high school, I took an advanced English course where instead of sitting an exam, we wrote novellas that went outside the school for blind marking. For us, every assignment, speech, and exam we undertook counted toward our overall university entrance score. So my novella went away for blind marking and came back with 100/100. And I was like, "This is awesome, because I need a high mark to get into law school." Which was all I really cared about at the time. Isn't tunnel vision the greatest?

And so as someone trying to get into law school, I felt like a pretty successful writer.

Now, like everyone else, I was a real joy to be around during my teens. And so I was like, “No one reads this stupid novella. NO ONE. I only wrote it for stupid school. It’s totally private.” A door was probably slammed.

Some relatives conned me into printing a few copies FOR THEIR EYES ONLY. A few months later, mum told me a story. See, my pop had brought up the topic of the novella with his neighbour (a grandfather himself). Neighbour-grandfather expressed interest. Pop handed over a copy.

I almost threw up.

But that wasn’t the end of this complete and utter violation of my privacy. Apparently neighbour-grandfather was so taken that he sat up late into the night reading. He went to bed but couldn’t sleep. He came knocking on my Pop’s door at 2am in his dressing gown, waving a copy of my novella in sleepy Pop’s face, ranting about how awesome it was.

Miller's writing notebook
But did I care?

Not at all. I couldn't give a toss about writing fiction and was more interested in getting drunk (we can drink at 18 here - woohoo). I was angry the work was shared without my permission. Cue teen angst.

And that was that. Dressing-gown grandpa moved away. I never got to meet him. I actually forgot about him for years. It simply wasn’t relevant to my life, as I never planned to write again.

Now that I'm older and wiser and law school is finished (overrated, btw) I have begun to think fondly of dressing-gown grandpa. Because when someone you never get to meet is touched by something you wrote, it's more than cool. It’s a privilege. Dressing-gown grandpa was a massive compliment, but one I was way too immature to grasp at the time.

But if I’m truly honest, dressing-gown grandpa also scared the crap out of me.

He made me feel like I was good at something that was easy to fail at. What if I tried writing again but was completely horrible at it? Lately I’ve been able to turn that fear around. Memories of dressing-gown grandpa are actually what gave me the courage to pull a notebook out of a drawer and write a novel.

And that feels like success.

Maree Miller recently completed a novel about an indigenous Brazilian/Portuguese Jewish family facing persecution at the turn of the C17th. She's Australian, an avid traveller, and works as a consultant specialising in environmental law. You can find out more about Maree on her website, http://www.mareemiller.com, where she blogs about things like culture, history and literature.

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