'On sharing writing with others - an observation of self and process' by student Nikia Allen was developed in Develop a Writing Project in 2021.
I should get a job voicing tapes that are meant to help people sleep, because that seems to be the effect discussing my writing has on people. I’ll go raving on about a plot thread and the unfortunate listener’s eyes will droop. Sometimes I don’t even realise they’ve fallen asleep. I’ve given up discussing writing with non-writers. There’s just nothing I can get out of it.
I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember and I very quickly learned to censor what I shared. I have a bad habit of reading too much into any reaction a person has, physical or verbal, and even child-me could tell my writing was deemed oddly disturbing by adults. So, I’d just cut the darkness or genre out of it. Dying became falling asleep. Spaceships became cars. Unicorns became horses.
Teenage-me had it even worse. No notebook could be left unattended in a classroom without someone opening it up and divulging its contents to everyone present. Even people I considered friends would do it. I never shit on your totally-not-Doctor-Who fanfiction, I’d think, trying to beam telepathic daggers into the girl sitting beside me.
Everyone in my friend circle wrote totally-not-fanfiction and shared with each other, apart from me. I had a big brown A4 notebook where I wrote my dark and angsty ideas. I’d make characters likeable just to hurt readers when I killed them off. Everyone suffered and they all died at the end. I loved it. It was one of the few things I had control over.
I chucked the notebook into the fire in Year 11.
One of my favourite TV series ended in a way I should have loved: everyone was miserable and most of them died. Yet I wasn’t satisfied. It wasn’t cathartic at all.
I started writing in A5. A5 notebooks fit in just about any bag. The spiral-bound ones take up very little space on a table and can be easily shielded from prying eyes. It’s a reflexive action. There’s always someone who asks, “What are you writing?” I say, “Uni assignment,” and leave it at that.
I’ve never really been able to share my writing with my family, my parents especially. I’m a genre writer. They don’t read or watch genre. My parents like Things That Happen in the Real World. Anything else confuses them. The last piece I ever shared with them I also shared with my sister. I said to both parties, “This piece is too long. Should I cut out the beginning or the end?” I personally felt the beginning was slow, and my sister agreed. My parents, however, found the start more intriguing, but couldn’t offer any advice more pithy than, ‘You missed a comma on page two”. When I had two pieces placed on my university’s website and reluctantly shared the link, my parents loved the non-fiction book analysis, but couldn’t understand the fiction piece, especially the one detail that defined it as genre fiction.
Sharing writing is a terrifying thing. Even during the PWE diploma, I felt a need to censor myself, to make every word and element accessible to the average modern Australian. I’ve stopped doing that. It’s liberating but scary. I’m writing what I want to write, marketability or understanding be damned.
I think I write because there are things I want to explore, unpack, subvert, understand. In my current project, the antagonist is in love with a fictional character. I’m trying to understand why people think that way. Now I can share segments or ideas with other writers I know and get suggestions that mean something. “What if the character he was in love with was from a kids’ cartoon?” my partner (also a writer) suggests. “Oh, that’s great," I say. “It makes it even creepier.”
I need feedback from people who understand narrative structures and character arcs and where to break a paragraph. I’ll find that missing comma without my parents’ help.