The Thank You Series: #1

Yes, I’ve started a(nother) blog because this is a year to grow and to persevere.

For my sins, I blogged during university. My writing was sappy, wordy, preachy and all the other things you imagined. I sent the odd piece to an editor at The Big Smoke, a website where the most outrageous opinions can get published. Years later, when I worked for a trendy outfit that did something in the ballpark of advertising and PR – although I still couldn’t tell you what my role actually was – I wrote articles on behalf of clients. The Smoke posted my lefty rants in spite of the affected journalistic flourishes I thought would make my work more commanding. I’m not sure how much good those pieces ever did the clients.

Then there were the nauseating things I did for a start-up hipster magazine called The Spit Press. They were in the same period – and in the same vein – as my blog. I wrote something glutinous about how the only people who produce real ‘art’ are the f*ck-ups. Another time I interviewed a supermodel in her Bellevue Hill home about a novel she wrote set in the sleazy Russian underworld. Unfortunately for me, that was a video interview. Was everybody laughing behind my back at the funny-faced brown girl who agreed to interview Miranda Darling on camera? Was I too busy believing this was my break into the world of writers people take seriously? I suppose it serves me right that it’s still somewhere on the internet. (You’ll be rewarded if you manage to find it in the catacombs where YouTube channels go to die.)

As I write this, I remember a perplexing experience I had as a gig reviewer. I thought I must be half decent to be given advance releases of new music and free tickets to cosy, indie shows around Sydney in exchange for writing down my impressions. I enjoyed the challenge of representing sound in a different medium, text. I’m still a fan of that group of old-timers, The Genes, whose music I first heard squashed against the wall of a tiny room in Marrickville with my husband. Sweaty mums with loose plaits swayed along between swigs of VB, their barefoot children playing air drums at the front of the mini audience. Blokes turned to red leather by sun and rum listened reverentially at the edges of the place. I don’t think I had the vocabulary at the time to write a more complimentary review than the one I sent to the editor the next day.

The Lime Cordiale gig at the Brookvale Hotel was another thing entirely. Too drunk to play their instruments, four men squawked about surf and sex for an hour or so to a crowd sloshing beer on my sneakers, apparently unfazed by the horrendous mix engineered by the soundie. Was it entertainment, or just some beach culture worship ritual? The review, I thought, was balanced but, overall, unflattering. I sent it off with a sense of duty discharged and was genuinely shocked when the editor chastised me for wasting his tickets on a review he couldn’t use. What did he mean, ‘couldn’t use’? Wasn’t my even-handed assessment a kind of community service to the concert-goers of my city?

That’s how I learned about recycled PR, the writing ‘market’ and the commercial advantages companies rarely hesitate to gain by exploiting enthusiastic nobodies like me.

It’s easier to produce what other people want you to write. There’s a brief, a word limit, a desired tone, and within these lines there’s a tidy space that allows for a modest amount of imagination. My first full-time job was a ten-month maternity leave contract at CMS, the oldest missionary organisation in Australia, as the writer and editor of the quarterly supporter magazine, Checkpoint. Every issue had a theme and required a range of content from missionaries representing various locations and activities. Sometimes the deadlines were tight but on the whole, really, it was a snack.

Vastly more difficult for me is the job of writing whatever the hell I want to. This process comes most naturally to me in the form of songs, where meaning gets mixed in with melody, metre and metaphor. Maybe this is why the result, a cryptic rendition of something I was feeling at the time, is never quite as satisfying as the feeling I get when reviewing a clear and clever essay or a description of a plausible character delivering an incisive snippet of dialogue. Vulnerable and exhilarated, I’m freshly aware that in prose there’s nowhere to hide.

I’ve always wanted to be able to live on what I make as a writer. Platforms like Medium and Vocal market themselves as meritocratic solutions to the unpublished writer’s sense of hopelessness at the mind-bending volume of content on the Internet and the competitive clutter this creates. It works in theory: better writing attracts more readers, earning you more money. But when ‘Three Mistakes Most Men Make in Bed’ is one of the top articles, you’ve got to ask yourself whether you’re ready to sacrifice everything you believed about good taste and aesthetic merit. I toyed with the idea of reporting on my travels on one of these platforms, giving me the chance to keep in touch with friends, students and relatives interested in my adventures, as well as testing my appeal to a bigger audience of readers who don’t know me and have no reason to automatically like what I write.

But I’m not going to. Which brings us back to blogging. On this blog, this English teacher is going to practise creating what she often demands of her students: thoughtful, brave, finished pieces of writing that ask beautiful questions and prize truth wherever it can be found. On this blog, the writing won’t be good because it gets clicks, views, reads, likes, shares, bla bla bla. It will be good if it pleases me, the writer, and loves you, the reader. That’s right, loves you. On this blog, I will write from love:

In a well-written piece each word is oxygen, it is matter; each word is essential to everything else on the page. And yet, it is also humble. Good writing knows the transitory nature of the materials with which its world is made. It knows that paper burns in an instant… And words, when spoken, soon vanish; they hover on the air for a moment and then are gone.

Good writing holds within it the knowledge that it is not writing that lasts but what is placed within it that lives on. And, of all the things that can be placed within words – fear, sorrow, anger, faith, hope, love – the best writing holds love, because love is the greatest of all these and lasts the longest.

Laurel Moffatt for ABC Religion & Ethics

Thank you, Maya and Simon for your donations to my Writers Residency. And thank you to all the Year 12 English Extension 1 students who have spent many early mornings being my pedagogical test subjects. Don’t fear failure and don’t sabotage growth with perfectionism. Write and write and keep on writing.

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