On Not Writing by Lisette Auton

For this article about writing, I would like to talk (type?) about not writing. A massive part of my writing life, which I now do full time as my job, is not actually writing.

I think I would have been a ‘proper’ writer a lot sooner if I’d known that was allowed. By ‘proper’ I don’t mean all posh, or millions of book deals, or Times best seller list, I mean grasping that title of writer and claiming it. Which, by the way, if you’re wondering if you’re a writer, you are.

Let me set some context here. I was definitely a proper writer when I was six and sellotaping books together and diligently copying out the Puffin logo and making up ISBN numbers. You know why? Because it was joyful, and the best bit about it was daydreaming the words into existence. I’d lie curled up in a sunbeam on the bowling green itchy carpet in my mum and dad’s living room and play in the worlds I created. Once they took form and shape, I’d write them down.

Then school happened and this no longer seemed a viable way to create. Daydreaming at a desk was forbidden. Then, when I got more serious about writing, instructional books told me that if I wasn’t writing every single day I couldn’t possibly be a ‘proper’ writer.

Then impairment hit, and the world skewed on its axis. I couldn’t write. At all. I definitely couldn’t write every day. I couldn’t hold a pen or sit up. I couldn’t watch TV. I couldn’t consume other people’s creativity.

They were long days to fill. And how did I do that? Making up worlds in my head. Places I could visit, stories I could re-run and hone. Endings I could fine-tune. Sequels and prequels and character exploration. Working out their wants and desires, what they hold in their pocket, what they hold dear. It was wonderful. I passed days, years like this. And you know what? I never once called it writing. Because writing involves paper and pen, or clicky-clacky fingers on a keyboard, reams of paper, drafts and scribbles.

When I was well enough, I began to write. And I punished myself for not managing to get X amount of words on a page because Mr Diddly Squat in his best selling How To Be A Proper Author book told me if I didn’t, I wasn’t. I disregarded the thinking the wondering, the playing and the day dreaming as not proper.

I lost years to that.

Maybe it’s age, the no longer giving as many (erm, can I swear?) figs anymore. Maybe it was all the fighting for access into buildings, access to benefits, to medical services, maybe I lost all the fight there. But I gave up on being a ‘proper’ writer and just did it for joy. Did it secretly. And then I found I had written a book, and that book got me onto a mentoring programme, and that book got me an agent, and that book will be published by Puffin (I don’t think they’ll let me draw the logo) in February 2022.

I did not write every day. I do not write every day. I am a proper actual 100% writer.

I suppose I want to give you permission that however you write, it’s right. Read all those How-To books because there will be a glimmer of information in there that makes you go, oooh, that would work for me. But don’t be a slave to them. Don’t let them tell you off.

I want bookshelves to have zero missings. I want them to be full of books by disabled writers, neurodivergent writers, chronically ill writers. And I want them to have written books their way, at their pace, on their terms using the tools and systems that work for their bodies and brains. And that applies for any writer who doesn’t identify with Mr Diddly Squat.

My body and brain doesn’t fit into the ‘normative’ writing experience. My wonderful copy editor just emailed to ask if I’d mind her sharing my proof notes with other authors as a new way of doing them, as she’d never seen them done like that before. I have wonderful people around me, enabling me to do things the way that works for me, and then asking if they can share that. Isn’t that wonderful? Shouldn’t writing be a wonderful experience? There’s enough gloomy bits in rejection and writers’ block, and not knowing the difference between that and which (still don’t understand that one), without making the process unbelievably miserable.

Here is my writing day: wake up and make a few notes from dream wonders before they disappear. By a few notes I mean often one word. Tea. Lots of tea. Naps. Day dreams. I wonder if…? Reading. Dog walking and working things through. Watching the tree from my bed out of my bedroom window and disappearing into its branches. And, eventually, not every day, definitely not every day, it’s like all those percolation bits bubble and collide and I’ve day dreamed and drafted and the whistle blows and BLURT. I write. I often dictate. Did you know word has a moderately okay dictate button that captures your thoughts? And then there are, finally, words on a page.

Please don’t make that your day. It probably won’t work for you, for one thing, I bet your tree isn’t as nice as my tree. And my days never ever, follow the same path or routine, because my body can’t be beholden to the same path or routine. I do not hammer out 500 words at 7am before my first cuppa. But you might. And that’s okay. If it works for you.

I just want to tell you, that however you write, that’s okay. And please, please don’t let someone else ever tell you it’s not. Because if we all write our way, I think that will also give us permission to tell our heart song stories our way. And I for one, cannot wait to read them.

P.S just in case you were still wondering, or weren’t completely sure, write this out on fancy paper in your best bubble writing, cover it in eco-glitter and stick it up where you will see it – I am a proper writer.

About the Author

Lisette Auton is a disabled writer, activist, poet, novelist, spoken-word artist, actor, film and theatre-maker and creative practitioner. She’s an award-winning poet who has performed at Northern Stage, ARC, The Southbank Centre and the Sage, in pubs, in a crypt, at festivals, indoors, outdoors, on a bridge and in a launderette. She was the 2019 Early Careers Fellow for Literature at Cove Park and is on the TSS Publishing list of Best British & Irish Flash Fiction. Her work has been commissioned by many organisations including Durham Book Festival, the Courtauld Institute of Art and MIMA. Lisette works with many creative collaborators to create unique and innovative cross artform works. The Secret of Haven Point, her debut novel, is forthcoming from Puffin in February 2022.

Website: www.lisetteauton.co.uk

Twitter: @lisette_auton

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