The next breath

I am not a sporting person. Some people are born with the ability to catch balls with their hands as if they have an in-built homing device. I, it would seem, was born with such a homing device in my head. If I enter a park and there is someone, somewhere within a two-kilometre radius throwing a football – or whatever it is you’re supposed to do with them – I can guarantee that said football, sooner or later, will hit me in the head. Thus whenever I have attempted to ‘play’ a sport I usually spend the whole time shielding my face with my hands, something which impedes ones ability to ‘play’ somewhat.

Some years ago, however, I discovered a sport of sorts which suits me perfectly. Swimming. The beauty of swimming is you don’t have to interact with anybody or anything except the water. You literally immerse yourself in it. No talking to anyone. No-one shouting ‘butter fingers!’ at you. You even get to wear a disguise: goggles and a latex cap, which transform one into a sort-of insect cross Peter Garrett. (Don’t worry, Overlanders, I’ll get to the bit about writing soon. Threw in that semi-political reference to keep you going.)

The key to swimming, especially freestyle, is patience. You have to be patient when it comes to breathing. You can’t worry about it too much and you certainly can’t let the word ‘drowning’ come into your head. You just have to keep swimming. As a swimming coach once said to me, swimming is ninety percent mental and ten percent physical.

The more I commit myself to writing, the more I discover it is like swimming. It is about waiting for the next breath, head underwater, submerged in one’s work, battling to keep the word ‘drowning’ out. Recently I wrote – sorry, blogged – about my struggles with Twitter. I said it wasn’t for me. Since then, my followers (all sixteen of them!) may have noticed that rather then abandoning Twitter, I have began to use it more and more, mainly because it provides me with a sense of camaraderie. I am now constantly reminded that this whole writing caper can be a darn hard slog. For everybody.

‘Why all this nauseating self-reflection?’ you may ask. Well Overlanders, in my last post I revealed I had been shortlisted for a certain writing fellowship. The comforting prospect of winning said fellowship has been with me for the last two months, like the promise of the next breath when one’s lungs are empty and one’s head has been under the water for too, too long. Despite promises to myself that I would tell no-one, I found myself mentioning it to every man and his dog. (No really, I mentioned it to a very enthusiastic Border Collie just the other day.) I found I was using this almost-success as a sort of validation when explaining to folk what I ‘do’, especially as I am convinced that when people hear the words ‘I’m a writer’ they mistake it for ‘I’m a wanker’.

Lest to say, and you probably saw this coming, I didn’t get the fellowship. I allowed myself one hour of crying while listening to Regina Spector’s ‘Man with a thousand faces’. (A vast improvement on the last time I was rejected which saw a four-hour tanty to the sound of Kim Wild’s seminal hit, ‘You don’t really love me, you just keep me hanging on’.) It felt like I had come up for breath only to discover I had mistakenly swum into a water polo match. Smack, right in the face. (I can’t guarantee I’ll stop thrashing the metaphor anytime soon. Sorry.) I then contemplated giving up the whole writing caper and getting a real job, you know, one of those ones with a work cubicle and a pay cheque. Problem is, if I had a real job, I’m not sure when I’d get any writing done.

So instead I will hang onto the snippet of ‘success’ that comes from being shortlisted. I will take comfort in the fact that upon reading my work, the administrators did not burst into hysterics and toss it into the bin, later patting their enormous stomachs, sucking on cigars and sniggering about the piece of rubbish they were forced to read. (Fairly sure the good people of Varuna aren’t morbidly overweight cigar-smoking megalomaniacs, but that’s the way these things go whenever I imagine anyone reading my work.) And I will keep writing. Because, as novelist Jean Bedford once told my writing class, it can be horrible and heart-breaking, but it’s the only thing I know how to do.

Claire Zorn

Claire Zorn is a Sydney-based writer of both fiction and non-fiction. Her work has been published in various literary journals and she has a particular passion for writing young adult fiction.

More by Claire Zorn ›

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  1. Well I enjoyed reading your writing here 🙂 I was wondering how you were going to link back to the sporting stuff and you did it well. This is the funniest one liner I’ve read for a while ‘ “I am convinced that when people hear the words ‘I’m a writer’ they mistake it for ‘I’m a wanker’.”

  2. Claire, first of all, congratulations on being long-listed – no small feat considering the number and talent of the applicants. And being rejected twice means you’ve made it twice (which is two times better than yours truly).

    It’s also refreshing that you’re so honest about how good it is to get some confirmation (a smidgeon is all most writers want) and how bad when aspirations are dashed (which is most of the time).

    When people ask me my profession I’d like to say writer because I spend my days writing, but without any books on the bookshop shelf or a paid writing gig, I’d feel like a wanker – I wonder if this is unique to writers!

  3. Hola Claire, I am so with you. I was short-listed for the Penguin/Varuna award/scholarship/opportunity last year and on ‘the day’ (actually, even a few days later) they extended the winner’s announcement for an extra two months … and then announced it a few days after THAT …

    Hope-management, I heard it described at the Emerging Writers’ Festival last year.

    Still, as they say: it’s very good to be short-listed/long-listed/not laughed-at-between-cigar-puffs-that-you-know-of

    And viva Varuna: I still want to get there. And viva Twitter, too.

    1. Ha, I remember seeing the announcement dragged out like that and wondering how anyone would ever survive the anticipation! Yes, viva Varuna. It’s a shame there aren’t more places around like it.

      1. It was pretty hellish (in a privileged-to-start-with kinda way) and after all that hanging, the non-winners found out by looking on the website and not seeing their names there: ouch.

        I’d still go there in a flash.

  4. I feel the same way.
    What does it say, though, about writing — or the culture that surrounds it — that we all feel faintly embarrassed about the term?

  5. Jeff, you’ve gone to the heart of it.

    Why though, when writing is what gets you out of bed in the morning and sometimes prevents you from sleeping well at night, is it embarrassing to say you’re a writer?

  6. I think it’s like when you say your a mother who stays home. People don’t acknowledge time and effort they only acknowledge money and high distinctions. But in reality the great writing example come from more than the first attempt. So keep on going and acknowledge the effort put in.

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