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  • aparnatheauthor

Okay so creative writers are tired of saying it, but it seems we keep needing to.

Writing is work.

Not work as in, ‘it’s a really hard thing to do’ – although it is. No, what we mean is that writing is labour – it is something that requires energy, mental effort, and sustained application.

Labour that should be valued, financially and societally.

I’m very annoyed that the first Google result definition of the word, from Oxford Languages, is ‘work, especially physical work’. That completely echoes the way we in the modern world like to artificially silo occupations and fields and treat them as fundamentally different.

But the reality is that for thousands of years across the globe, to be an artist was not to be a separate, strange, other being from the ‘ordinary’ worker. It was to be very much one of them. You earned a living from it. You laboured for it.

The impact of the Renaissance in Europe – and subsequently the effects of European colonisation - turned the artist from worker, someone who laboured, to someone who ‘created’. They became a mysterious, romantic, almost sacred figure. With the Industrial Revolution and the onset of mass capitalism, they then became seen as an outlying figure, someone on the fringes of legitimacy, respectability and productivity.

Now, I’m not saying that creative work isn’t different from other work. It is. I’m certainly never going to say that the way to really work at writing is to sit at your desk writing from 9-5 every day, or to fill every spare hour you have in a day with writing, head bent, backside firmly stuck to the chair.

That’s Western capitalist nonsense – pushing yourself to produce produce produce, every minute, every hour, to treat time and brain and body as resources to maximise.

That is not how healthy creative work, well, works. You need naps. You need days of thinking or daydreaming. You need procrastination. You need time to recharge the batteries.

Creative work might operate within different paradigms to other kinds of work, but it remains work. You still labour. You still have an outcome as a result of that labour, an outcome that should help you make a living.

So, stop telling me as a creative writer to seek ‘opportunities’ not work.

Stop telling us to be content with ‘exposure’ and not remuneration.

Stop finding ways to imply that we are not legitimate labourers.

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  • aparnatheauthor

trigger warning: mental illness

As I write this, I am anxious.

Not anxious as in nervous, but anxious as in thoughts constantly racing, stomach always tense, mind and emotions spinning in different directions.

I have clinical anxiety and OCD - specifically, obsessive thinking - which offshoots regularly into depression as well.

I am, I suppose, what's called 'high functioning' : I can get up - most days - get showered, dressed, pick up my bag and head out and try and do what I need to do.

But the fact is you can be technically high-functioning and still your mental illness can exert a choke hold on your emotions, your self-identity, your self-worth, your life, your decisions (or indecisions).

Mine does exactly all those things, every day.

It's what stopped me from committing to finding a career in the creative arts earlier on in my life - there were too many ideas and options and possibilities jumping about everywhere, my anxiety turning my mind into a popcorn machine, except one that didn't make popcorn, just paralysed me.

But writing has, for a number of years, been the one thing - truly the one thing - that allowed a sense of stability, a sense of focus, a sense of being able to 'do this'.

A sense of finding myself, really.

Of course, there is no easy, permanent solution to clinical mental illness - it's something you aim to learn to manage and live with, not cure, and most days you feel very far away from doing either of those things.

It DOES affect your life.

It DOES make things harder for you than it would be if you didn't have it.

You DO have to assess things differently to how others do because you have it.

It DOES often hold you back, no matter how 'high functioning' you appear to the world.

I am grateful that I've come to writing as the thing I want to spend most of my time doing in my life - I'm grateful that my mind gives me this escape and respite, and possibility of other ways of being.

My biggest fear is that my anxiety, ocd and depression will, one day, throw up a big, solid brick wall to writing that I can't break down or climb over.

But I also try to believe that creativity is its own life-force - if it's in you, it will always find a way to rebirth and renewal, and it will always be there for you.

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  • aparnatheauthor

If I wanted to hyphenate my identity, it would be:

Indian-Australian woman.

Australian-Indian woman.

Hyderabad-born Australian woman.

Telugu-Melbourne woman.

And so on and so forth.

But I’ve never really been able to do it, except when I have to pointedly mark up my ‘diversity’ for a grant or bio – because, ya know, institutions and cultural mediators now apparently love ‘diverse’ artists.

I, like many others I know, hate that word, ‘diverse’. It’s yet another way to stereotype and box in the ‘other’, which the white majority still doesn’t know how to understand or treat with any semblance of real equality.

But back to the question of identity.

The fact is I spent the first eighteen-odd years of my life in Australia thinking of myself as purely Indian; but in that ironic, paradoxical way that internal colonisation operates, also wanting to write white heroines in white settings.

All my fantasy, myth and history loves were European or British; the South Asian stuff was compartmentalized as my necessary, fundamental, but also embarrassing and uninteresting ‘heritage’.

And now?

I’ve long abandoned my white stories and white heroines - I now exclusively write heroines who are women of colour, negotiating fantasy worlds that are a composite of my background in Western history and myth and South Asian/Indian cultural , historical and mythic landscapes.

I can’t write what I am not, not anymore.

Any of this could change at any time, and I give myself some permission to do that. But even as I typed that, I went wobbly and anxious inside.

How can I stay true to my identity? How do I do it without being tokenistic or simplistic? Should I be doing it better?

For example, lately I have been questioning the somewhat gaslamp/steampunk (refer to previous post for my discussion of genre) elements of my novel Unbound. Is melding 19th century British clothes, manners, language with South Asian names, gods, food and beliefs just another way that I haven’t shaken off my internal colonisation, the belief that white cultures are somehow more attractive?

But when I started writing, that was the world that formed itself, and it was one that felt real, tangible, solid. It’s rare that I get that kind of feeling when writing.

So I think I’m going to have to trust myself on this one, and also remind myself that one book or series is not all I am, and not all I can be.

That’s another thing that happens when the word ‘diversity’ gets sprinkled everywhere: It makes the ‘diverse’ people themselves feel hemmed in to one kind of story, with rigid boundaries and short horizons.

So no hyphens for me, and no rigid parameters as to how to decolonise my writing and my imagination.

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