Focus on young writers: Cassie Wood

The final author feature in Overland 201’s ‘Young Writers’ section is Cassie Wood. Her story is ‘Eddy’. Cassie is a second-year writing student living in Melbourne. She talks here with Kalinda Ashton and Samuel Cooney.

Why write?

Why not? I think if you ask yourself this question, that’s when things get messy and you start considering business degrees and nuclear families. That isn’t to say those with business degrees and/or nuclear families couldn’t write. But that’s just it, isn’t it! You write because you can. I do.

Writing is a catalyst for discussion. The author creates a dialogue not only between themselves and their readers but between readers and in communities. The writer has the opportunity to manipulate language to say whatever it is no one else wants to. She/he can use words to drive their hand into someone’s chest and take a fistful of what’s there, or to hold someone’s head and force them to stare headlong at what they might not want to see.

I write because sometimes I create a dialogue with myself, too. I write to learn and to challenge myself.

A lot of the people I look up to are writers and I think there is always a desire to emulate those I hold high regard. Of course you’re always going to (want to) come out with a strong individual style and voice, still, I want to be able to create the warm/uncomfortable feelings I get from writing that has influenced/affected me.

Does the term ‘young writer’ mean anything to you?

In the sense that I am young and I write, I suppose it has to. Perhaps I’ll just accept that I am (trying to be) one, and move on. Still, it is interesting that in almost every other profession, the term ‘young’ does not hold anywhere as much significance.

It is a double-edged sword, in a way. Publishing a ‘young writer’ and advertising it as such can be a challenge to the reader. Saying, ‘Look, Sally is five years old, and she has produced a novella with multi-faceted narrative perspectives and several intricate plotlines that resolve themselves in an earth shattering conclusion’ can be impressive. Because Sally is five. And clearly a child genius. Still, if the publisher feels as though they are taking a chance with a piece, the term can act as a disclaimer of sorts.

‘Sally’s novella was terrible!’

‘Mate, she’s only five.

What in your view are the biggest barriers facing young authors in Australian publishing?

I’m not sure – if the writing is good enough – that these barriers exist. Perhaps there are difficulties in that a nineteen-year-old person’s manuscript may not be taken as seriously as someone who is forty years old … But even in writing that, I’m not sure I wholly believe it. The mass market of mainstream publishing houses I think also puts pressure on the young author. All of a sudden pace and drama become the drawcards of a ‘good’ novel. Then again, I really do believe that with a strong enough voice, quality writing and a smart pitch, any good writing will find its place. In my (potentially painfully naïve) opinion, at the moment in Australia there are more opportunities than barriers.

Malcolm King argues creative writing courses are untheoretical, inhibitively and unjustifiably expensive, commodified and potentially unethical with their promises of fulfilling a student’s potential all the way to publication. He calls them ‘dream factories’. What do you think of creative writing courses? Have they assisted you? Are they teaching you craft and self-expression or are they symptomatic of a culture that promises much (at a great price) and offers very little? What are your experiences with studying creative writing and your opinions of it?

My first problem with the ethics of creative writing courses lies with the student who goes into a creative writing course with the core intention of being published. Yes, it is a nice goal to have and in pursuing a career in writing, publication is one end to the means. Still, I am not necessarily sure that the courses themselves promise publication any more than the student enrolling in courses bring publication with them as an agenda.

I think there are students that become very passionate about their work and go into creative writing courses seeking confirmation, as well as introductions to ‘industry types’. When a course has had some success stories they will advertise that. It would be silly not to. If writers that have gone through their course have made it all the way to publication, that point can be exploited as incentive for new writers to enrol. Still, I think the student has a responsibility to be realistic about their opportunities and situation.

The course I am currently involved in has assisted me greatly in some ways but also created and confirmed disillusionment in the bureaucratically structured-university systems. I have met some fantastic teachers who really care about writing as a craft, a craft that requires context and understanding. Then again, there is a general culture of self-expression, with which I don’t particularly agree. That may sound contradictory in terms of previous comments I have made, but I believe to get to a point of creating a dialogue with a reader, there needs to be a deep understanding of the finer mechanics of writing. Of course this can mean hardcore theoretical study, but also, something as basic as language and editing skills – both of which have been mostly absent in my course to date. There certainly have been gaps in my experience, but I suppose that raises the question of how we institutionalise creativity and ‘teach’ it.

I think there is a culture of wanting to breed creativity within the institution rather than give students the tools to control it. I think being around other aspiring writers is extremely helpful and there is always, always, always something to learn in a classroom. I think as far as paying money or accumulating a student debt with great aspiration of publication and glory is unrealistic. If a student feels as though their course promises a happy, published, established ending, then they are completely delusional and need to take responsibility for themselves and get back in touch with reality. I don’t think creative writing courses are necessary. I think whomever you have the pleasure/displeasure of encountering throughout a course can have a great impact. I don’t think there is enough focus on critical theory or the finer mechanics of producing good, contextual writing. If I hear the term ‘self-directed learning’ one more time, it may result in suicide.

Editorial team

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