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Gemma Weekes: Seven Notes for a Young Writer

Seven Notes for a Young Writer

by Gemma Weekes

1. You Will Always be Young

Dear writer, you will always be young, for better or for worse. If not, then you’re doing this wrong. Youth has nothing to do with how many years you’ve been alive, but with your openness to experience, your wild hope, your ambition and your willingness to fail. A blank page will feel like the world restarting. You’ll keep forgetting the basics of form and have to remind yourself. Time will not prevent you from feeling like you don’t know what you’re doing. 

But because you’re young, you’ll forgive yourself for that. You’ll continue to learn. Uncertainty will not stop you. With stamina of the young, you’ll maintain the strength to remain innocent to the world. You’ll see it as it really is, for all its paradoxes and nuances, and without the distortions of your own biases and trauma. You’ll tell the truth no matter how complex or unfashionable. You’ll laugh when tickled, hold loved ones close, and weep thunderously when hurt.  This is how you remain a clear channel. If I knew I’d be young for this long, I’d have been a lot kinder to myself, a lot more patient in decades past. 

2. Be a Good Mother to Your Work

Keep showing up for it, even if it won’t look at you. Keep speaking, even if it won’t speak back. Every day, give your work its due. Sometimes you’ll have great days, some days you’ll barely stand each other; but you’ll stay with it until it’s complete enough to leave home. Forgive its shortcomings and your own. You’re doing the best you can.

Remember that the work comes through you but belongs entirely to itself. Let it become what it is. And the same way you wouldn’t give your kid into just anyone’s care, only share your work with those who will love it and care for it and correct and praise it the way you do. And even then, it’s a matter of timing.  You wouldn’t send a toddler to college, and you don’t send your early drafts to anyone unless and until you are honestly ready for criticism. 

3. Read

Read. Read as much as you can. Read for joy and for entertainment as well as to learn. Don’t let it become dry or cynical. Allow yourself to fall in love with your contemporaries.

Step away from the social media scroll and step into a book. This is not a competition. That part is an illusion. Every time a writer is introduced at an event or a podcast, they are always preceded by a list of their achievements, their awards, their accolades. Don’t pay attention to this. Your contract is with God. Reading is church.

4. Forgive yourself

Forgiveness is the shock absorber of life, like cartilage in the joints. If you can’t forgive, your life will not live and your work will not work. Do the best to honour the path you have chosen in your daily habits but wherever you fail – and you will fail often – forgive yourself as easily as a cloud passes the sun. There is always a new moment, a new day, a new opportunity, a new project. And remember: you will always be young. 

5. Risk yourself

Say the things you are afraid to say; explore the subjects that actually stir you to passion, deep enthusiasm or anger. Don’t wait to be ‘good’. Submit to anthologies and journals. Go out and read your work aloud. Don’t learn to be writer. You are a writer right now. You will get better at it and your practise will deepen, but allow yourself to step into who you are NOW. You don’t have to risk your finances and leave your job – there’s no virtue in suffering. Risk your heart always, and your reward will be growth, true joy, true pride in yourself and knowledge of your own strength. 

6. Find community

Again: this is not a competition. Allow other writers into your practise, your work and your life. Find spaces, individuals and groups that inspire you and encourage you to keep going. Helping others with their work; giving them the generosity of your attention will make you a better person and hone you as a writer. Helping others to troubleshoot and deepen their practise will sharpen your understanding of your own work. Pen or not, we’re just little mammals after all. People need people. 

7. Invent!

Everything that exists was once brand new and had no precedent. Do whatever the bleep you want. You’re allowed to HAVE FUN.

Gemma Weekes is critically-acclaimed author of Love Me (Chatto & Windus), poet, screenwriter, musicmaker, multidisciplinary artist and proud mama. Her work has appeared in numerous anthologies, literary journals, on stage and on screen. Currently she is working on a verse novel entitled GRI-GRI, and developing a TV series for Netflix.

Image credit: Osvaldo Cadet

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