Thursday, March 3, 2011

Re-discovering the writer within

Over the past few weeks, I have finally been able to enjoy some uninterrupted hours of writing, to my great glee. At one stage, I ‘holed up’ for a few days at our daughter’s unit in western Sydney while she was away and put some serious effort into my current novel – my sixth. I didn’t care that Sydney was in the middle of a terrible heatwave. I put the air conditioning on for disgustingly long periods and barely opened the curtains, let alone the doors. I forgot about the ‘real world’ out there – apart from the occasional break to watch the Australian Open Tennis on TV! I ate simple meals when I wanted – anything quick and easy so I could get back to my writing. And in the process, I discovered all over again what it feels like to immerse oneself in this whole creative process called writing.

Recently I read an interesting comment about this writing process made by English born Australian author Elizabeth Jolley:

There is a terrible restlessness that accompanies writing. It is a prowling in the heart and the mind and the body. It is a kind of pain, a mixture of elation and a melancholy for which there is no remedy.
I wonder if you can relate to these feelings she has described? I certainly can. Just last week, I finally finished the novel – well, the first draft at least! I had wanted to get to these final chapters for so long, but I found that even though I loved the whole process, I was strangely restless. I would physically have to move after every few sentences, perhaps getting up to stretch or walk around the room. I wanted to shift my characters forward, to have them say and do the things they obviously wanted to – but on the other hand, I somehow wanted to relish the moment, to hold onto them and not to close off their options. And I most certainly did not want to say goodbye to them! What would I do without these characters in the back of my mind, working through their various dilemmas?

And I also experienced the very real elation and melancholy that Elizabeth Jolley talks about. I was exultant at various stages as I began to weave the final threads of my novel together. Wow – this particular character really is going to make some wise decisions in his life! Oh, this other one has expressed herself so well there! And I never thought the conversation between those two characters would take that particular turn! At times, it seemed I was being carried along on a wave of inspiration, simply enjoying the ride. Yet at others, my experience was the exact opposite. I would sit staring at a sentence I had just created, changing this word and that, before deleting it entirely. I would puzzle over how on earth I could move the characters through the impasse they had reached in a way that would not sound unrealistic or trite. And I would read over my previous paragraphs with a sinking heart, wondering if I was completely wasting my time. Was I writing rubbish after all? Would anyone ever want to read this? Perhaps I should scrap the whole novel altogether.

And yet here I am, having survived another perilous journey of writing a novel. I have finished that first draft – and whatever the stops and starts and highs and lows, I would not have missed the experience for the world! And I have stayed the course, I believe, because God has been with me every step of the way, urging me on, helping me persevere, giving me inspiration, comforting me, reminding me that he has gifted me and called me to write.
And that’s all that matters really.
How about you? Do you resonate with Elizabeth Jolley’s words above? Does your writing journey resemble my crazy one in any way?

Jo-Anne Berthelsen lives in Sydney, Australia, and has four published novels, ‘HelĂ©na’, ‘All the Days of My Life’, ‘Laura’ and ‘Jenna’. For more information, please visit her website,


  1. Thanks for sharing, Jo-Anne. I love the moment when my characters move from being people I've dreamed up on paper (make that screen) to real people, even though they develop minds of their own and don't always agree with me. That's when you realise the true meaning of the term "creative writing".

  2. Wonderful post and I can really identify with what you have shared. But I am envious! You were able to "get away" and write like that without interruptions?

  3. I definitely identify with that restlessness of the mind. And it helps when you can get away as you did--except hours and hours of immersing myself also means pain in my arm from typing. But the exhilaration of the story coming right keeps me going.

  4. I love it when characters do the unexpected and you sit back and go "Wow, where did that come from?" It's been awhile since I was able to "get away" like you describe, but Im so glad for you that you managed to finish that first draft. Such a great feeling!

  5. Every writer's dream to be able to get away for a time and finish the work. Glad it was so productive for you.

  6. Recently I finished my first novel after five long years, I also felt what you described; being torn between wanting to draw it to a close and not wanting to say good-bye. I had become so attached to this "family" that I miss them. It's a kind of grief. Maybe a sequel? So happy that you were blest with the gift of time!