My penultimate contribution before the Great Back To School Exodus is an essay on text-making monkeys, loneliness, books and politics, for Overland Magazine’s centenary issue. I was challenged to compose a modern response to George Orwell’s seminal essay on the same topic – and if I’ve done it even a scrap of justice, well, that’s me satisfied.
‘Many writers and artists in the digital age focus on promoting their ‘personal brand’ at the expense of developing their authentic voice. The difference is quite simple.
Your brand is what you show to the world and sell for cash to your employers so you can buy luxuries like rent and tea and pens.
Your voice cannot be sold. It cannot be copied or cheapened with trade. It is yours. It exists in the magic space between your brain and your keyboard, and has nothing to do with noise. It is what is left when the internet goes down and your friends stop calling and you’re alone with a notebook. Your voice is what makes you, rather than any one of a hundred thousand fungible public personalities, a writer.
When it comes to being a writer, there are a couple of questions that really matter. Do you write? Would you prefer to put words on a page than almost anything else? Do you stay up late to write, get up early to write, escape your friends and partners and small children to be alone with words? Can you actually finish a story – have you mastered the habit of whipping your wild thoughts into a workable form, signing them off and letting them go? Do you have enough patience to sit with a manuscript for hours until it’s done, but enough impatience to chase a story through the small hours of the morning until you’ve caught and nailed it down?
Most importantly: do you read?
There is no universal writing life. But there are a few qualities that most of the really fantastic writers I know have in common – and the first of those is reading. Writers read widely and compulsively. They are not necessarily methodical; they will read to learn but they also read just to read, because they would rather do that than almost everything else. Writers take a great novel over a mediocre orgasm any day.’