Writing is lonely work but connecting with other novelists on zoom keeps me motivated | Jodi Wilson | The Guardian

It’s not pretty but conference calls at dawn keep us showing up. We’ve got novels to write, which is the only work we really want to do

Three mornings a week I set my alarm for 5.45am and 10 minutes later I open my laptop to join a zoom chat. My friend, author Gabbie Stroud, appears on the screen. There we are, bedraggled and sleepy, bundled in polyester dressing gowns and big scarves, cradling cups of tea that fog our faces. It’s not pretty but it’s productive and it’s why we keep showing up. We’ve got novels to write and nothing brings you to the page faster than someone ready and willing to type alongside you.

In my little house on the north-west coast of Tasmania, my family sleeps while I sit at the desk in the corner of my lounge room, a messy surface piled high with books and just enough space for my keyboard, a notebook and a cup of tea. It is quiet and dark, the fire burns, the dog sits at my feet.

At dawn, no one asks me questions. The words come but they’re not very good. I keep writing anyway because every time I look up, cursing the shitness of this first draft – it’s actually called “a shitty first draft” in my Google docs – I can see Gabbie typing, and so I keep going.

Some mornings we are joined by other members of our writing group who roll out of bed, bleary but determined. The camaraderie of other writers cannot be underestimated and as we bemoan the job at hand, it’s also one we feel compelled to persist with. Because writing a novel – as most of us are – is awful work and the only work we really want to do. We do it because we love the craft of writing. We are compelled by the quiet hope that we may write a sentence we’re deeply pleased with.

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Some of us are published authors, some of us have rejected manuscripts sitting in drawers, we all want to keep writing so we turn up to the page. “Just write one more sentence” we repeat to ourselves; a desperate mantra when the words are stilted and ideas don’t flow. But one sentence inevitably becomes another, and that’s how novels are written, we discover.

Still, the doubt surfaces and the imp of discontent logs into zoom with us.

We met online in a Varuna programme that promised to help us kickstart our writing projects. Led by Ashley Hay, author and former editor of the Griffith Review, we were in good hands. And because we were so stripped of creative companionship, we spilled truths without hesitation, describing our projects and detailing our narrative challenge; plots that don’t go anywhere, characters that are flat, ideas that remain in their embryonic state. Over four weeks we read craft advice from Zadie Smith, George Saunders, Helen Garner (of course); were introduced to poems and pulled half sentences to use as prompts that became whole pages of text.

We anticipated falling into “the flow” of writing but mostly we are comforted by the honesty of writers like Charlotte Wood who detail their challenge because for now, that’s all we know.

There is no glamour to this but there is creative energy that is the undercurrent of our ordinary lives; these are the stories we think about when we’re washing dishes, on the school run, waiting for a bus, walking around the block. On days when we procrastinate our kitchen benches are clutter-free, unlike the plot problems that exist in our heads.

The weeks pass, the members dwindle. The 5.55am starts doesn’t work for most of the group – one woman swims most mornings and we agree, as does Deborah Levy, that writing and swimming help each other.

It’s now Gabbie and I, cheering each other along. I’ve never met her in real life but I know the colour of her dressing gown and the fact that she drinks plunger coffee at 6am.

“Stay curious,” we say. “Keep going.” We reference Margaret Atwood: “A word after a word is power.” We show up, we type, the work is not yet meaningful but our words are like armour; at once protective and propelling us forward.

We sit and mull, write and edit, and move – sentence by sentence – closer to the truth of the matter.

We discover that this is how novels are written; in the stolen hours of ordinary days.

Jodi Wilson is a mother of four and author of Practising Simplicity and The Complete Australian Guide to Pregnancy and Birth