Rebecca K Reilly (Writing for the Page, 2019)

How often are you presented with the opportunity and time to write a book, surrounded by experts who want you to succeed? I think you might as well go for it.

Rebecca writes: 'I never thought that I would do the MA, because I never really thought that I was a writer. I had written a lot of things, but only on a note taking app on my phone that I was embarrassed I had, and in raw text files named Untitled 1 – 26 because I thought using Microsoft Word or apparently even naming a document was for people far above my station.  Then in 2018 I had a terrible year, with many a companion announcing they were still in love with their ex from the Gold Coast, or they'd actually bought a one-way ticket to Buenos Aires. I had a job where I was reprehensibly not driving home the sales. It was time to pack it all in and admit to myself that what I really wanted to do was write. Coming out as an aspiring novelist is extremely embarrassing, much like I imagine it would be to tell your friends that you're giving up your office job to become a star of stage and screen or appear on The Bachelor. Except worse because I had to tell Aucklanders that I was potentially moving to Wellington.

'Preparing to start the course was terrifying; hysterically reading the class list filled with formidable bios and publication histories, spending hours frantically searching anything that I thought could help me fit in, fiction new releases and what is a chapbook. I didn't know how I'd been allowed in, with an application I truly believed to be unhinged, which had been written partially on a bus, and included a reading list I'd copied at the eleventh hour off a website about emerging Australian writers. But when I arrived at the IIML, it wasn't how I expected at all. No one was swanning about eating couscous salad and gossiping about the latest chapbook soirees, dressed entirely in fine linens. Everyone was very friendly. And old! I hate to admit that I've been a victim of media spin about brilliant young writers, but I did expect that everyone in the MA would be 21 and I would be the one haggard 27-year-old who remembered having a flip phone. This was not the case. The most glamorous person in our class was 61. People remembered the Springbok Tour.

'The actual work component was both easier and more difficult than I expected. Choosing to write a novel in this course, finishing a full manuscript in eight months, is not the simplest way to go about things and people do guffaw and say you won't come out the other side with anything more than a rough first draft. My opinion is, how often are you presented with the opportunity and time to take on such a large task while surrounded by people who really want you to succeed and are experts in doing this very thing? I think you might as well go for it. The course makes for very fertile ground for coming up with ideas and trying things out. The main issue I had was finding time to write it all down before the due date, which sometimes felt like catching all the water from the Trevi Fountain with a gelato cone and a stack of souvenir frisbees.

'Other things were difficult. I realised early on I couldn't complete the work to a satisfactory standard and have a job, so survived on $1 hot chocolates and carrots. You have to work really hard on your feedback skills. You read work you love, you read work you do not love, you read work in genres you don't understand but you try your best to say something insightful, because you know everyone's doing the same for you. The course requires a level of trust and openness between the participants which can be hard emotionally. Some days weren't great; guest speakers would come and advise that the best way to become a writer is to have done it in the 1970s or to have trained as a lawyer at some point in the past. You'd get a feedback letter from someone who hated your character Julie and the scene with the granddad's gay affair, which you definitely never wrote. A poet would say their whole manuscript was 65 pages long. You'd be asked in your role as class rep to stage an intervention. The photocopier would stop working. It was all worth it. Everything is worth it for the electric feeling you get in this course when the words you write start affecting other people, when everyone starts arguing about whether or not the chemist you made up in your head one day was actively flirting or if he genuinely just wanted to get a coffee, and you realise that maybe even though six months ago you were a call centre employee who was not going to even come close to hitting their sales target, maybe you are a writer after all.

Bio: Rebecca K Reilly (Ngāti Hine, Ngāti Wai) completed the fiction stream of Writing for the Page in 2019 and was awarded the Adam Foundation Prize for Creative Writing. Her first novel is due to be published by Te Herenga Waka University Press in 2021.

Read more:

Rebecca's website

'Videotapes' (Scum Mag)