Emma Mactaggart

Emma Mactaggart

I am doing it right now – staring at a blank piece of paper, feeling my mouth dry and a lurch in my belly… it is anxiety at is gentlest, but nevertheless distracting enough to make the flow of words dry up. I have been thinking about this article for days now, about how writing is about managing expectations and how it is one of the few things that children and adults both need to do in equal measure. Adults haven’t got this conquered yet, nor do children, simply because each time we go to do something new, something for the first time, our response can be the experience of a flood of uncertainty.

‘Page fright’ is how we always describe this from a writer’s perspective, and I can only imagine how daunting this experience is for a child who is told to ‘write, write now’ in a classroom setting, perhaps a NAPLAN prompt, a teacher’s challenge, an English class assignment or a test or exam.

What is it then that we can do ourselves to help?

Just then, as I set up my computer, I took three very deep breaths. There is a workshop happening in the room beside me hosted by the Queensland Writers Centre, a group of authors are working on their projects using the ‘pomodoro’ system. A facilitator is setting times for them to start and to stop writing, and they are not to allow themselves to get distracted. All morning, I’ve been watching, distracted myself, willing my computer battery to go flat, glancing up at the front door hoping for a visitor, looking at my phone. Anything to avoid putting pen to paper (or more appropriately fingers to keyboard!) Back to those three very deep breaths. I have to settle into my chair and write…

The question is then not to avoid the anxiety but ask why we are fearful of putting words down and it comes to avoiding sharing those words. See, if they are not written, no one can judge me. No one will have the opportunity to say, ‘she is a terrible writer,’ or ‘she is an amazing writer, I couldn’t believe my luck as my eyes drifted over her prose and my heart swooned for the love of the language’.

This means then that to write and to share is about adjusting expectations, managing them so that they don’t manage us.

And it is not just me experiencing this. Yesterday I met a young writer who had just won a significant award and yet it threatened to hinder his future writing because whilst it is indicative of the incredible talent he possesses; he then was concerned with how his next story would ‘measure up’.  This is not about being concerned about the ‘tall poppy’ syndrome and others pulling him down, but rather how he was effectively self-sabotaging. It then was about shifting his own perception as to the measure of success and managing his expectations. He was recognised by his peers, his family and friends as a writer because he wrote – not because he wrote the next great Australian novel, so why would he be critical of himself?

A blank page therefore needs to become a challenge. Sitting down at the desk to simply string together sentences in a bid to share your own view of the world, your own experiences and gift this to others is a shift in the paradigm that is very subtle but useful, for if you give your words, it is a gift and will be received as such, with gratitude you took time out of your day to create something for someone else.

Now, I take three more deep breaths, and I write as my gift to you.