Hello. If you are reading this is means that I have finally overcome my fear of blogging. So what will these posts be about? I am a Sydney-sider trying to combine my career as a doctor with my long-held love of writing.
Creative writing has been a part of me as far back as I can recall. I still remember the poems and stories I wrote in Primary School and how much they meant to me. There was a piece about Shiny the dolphin, and another about a boy who witnessed the atomic bomb in Hiroshima.
Towards the end of high-school I faced that common dilemma: What am I going to do with the rest of my life? I decided it would be something that combined my love of Biology with writing. I applied to study journalism with a view to being a medical journalist, but at the last moment switched to a combined B.Arts/B.Science degree. That way, I figured, I could learn Science in-depth while honing my writing skills with an English major.
Studying a double degree was a strange experience. In my Science classes students joked disparagingly about Arts degrees and the low number of contact hours. In my more progressive Arts subjects outspoken classmates soap-boxed about Science being an institution of the Patriarchy. I inhabited two worlds physically separated by a few hundred meters, but that culturally were light-years apart. I often felt like a spy.
While I loved the breadth of my studies, I fell further and further down the rabbit-hole of Science, particularly in the study of the immune system. I went on to do a PhD in HIV/AIDS research and a graduate medical degree. The answer to my original question seemed to materialize: I’m going to be an Immunologist.
Also, I kept writing. I wrote my Honours and PhD theses, review articles, editorials and research papers. I was amazed at how much my Arts degree helped me in terms of writing concisely and with clarity. A lot of Scientists and doctors don’t enjoy writing, and despite the fact it is a necessary tool for a successful career, it’s hardly taught as part of those degrees. I was the opposite. I had written a fair amount, and more than that, I enjoyed the process. I wrote creatively too, mostly in the evenings in flurries of inspiration.
From 2009-2016 I was consumed by medical training. I worked as a Junior Medical Officer, Basic Physician Trainee and then Immunology Advanced Trainee in various public hospitals in NSW. Most of my writing was in the medical and scientific literature, although I continued to write creatively, for myself. This was especially true when I went on maternity leave in 2013 and again in 2016 and found myself at home caring for small children. During those times writing was a necessary outlet. I started a project while on maternity leave that has evolved into the manuscript of a first novel.
2017 has been the start of a new era. I have finished my medical training and suddenly find my world has opened up again. Despite having young children, the absence of a full-time training job and studying for exams means that in relative terms I have some spare time. Not a lot, but some.
So what have I been filling it with? Reading. And writing.
Here are a few specific things I have been doing:
- Reading more books than I have in years (mostly fiction)
- I did the “From first draft to polished manuscript” course at the NSW Writer’s Centre. It was excellent and I would highly recommend it to other writers.
- I formed a writers group with 3 other members from the course. Everyone always says if you want to be a writer you need to be in a writers group. I’ll admit I was skeptical initially. Then I wanted to join a group but I didn’t know how. Our writers group meeting is a highlight of my month. It’s so good I’ll write another post about it later.
- I had two poems published by the Hunter Writers Centre Grieve Anthology- the first works I have published since graduating from university!
- I registered with Submittable
- I have worked with an editor and am about to work with another.
- I created this website and an Instagram account for my writing world. To other people who aren’t full-time writers and/or who might be trying to juggle disparate careers I have found this incredibly helpful. Medicine is a pervasive field. Many of my social media connections are from the medical world. As a result, even when I am away from work, Medicine creeps into my life and onto my feeds. Having a separate pages and accounts helps me to have a sanctioned place for creativity. A place where I can go and browse other people’s endeavors and think about my own.
- I have engaged with so many wonderful writers through online platforms.
- I have been filled with the joy and frustration of writing. Mostly the joy.
There have been disappointments too. I sent what I think is the best poem I have ever written to a major publication and was rejected. I also entered a prize for emerging writers and was unsuccessful. What I’m learning through being connected to so many writers is that those setbacks are all part and parcel of being a writer. Yes, they are devastating, but you learn from them. Your writing improves. You keep picking up the pen (or keyboard). You keep writing.
So here I am, now in my thirties asking that same question What am I going to do with the rest of my life? Increasingly I want to include creative writing in my answer. Actually, it feels more like a need than a want.
About a year ago I was surfing the net and came across a listicle entitled “The 10 things that happy people do” or similar. #9 was “Do things that are good for your soul.” I’m sure I’ve read that before, but it was the explanation that, over time, has really resonated with me; to the point that I wish I had saved the article to credit the writer. The author explained that it’s different for everyone, but you can identify what is good for your soul as those things in your life that you keep coming back to.
For me, that’s writing. It’s the thing in my life that I keep coming back to.