Tell your story: because no one else can – Jemma’s story

Posted 1 February 2019


Jemma Wallace is a writer from Edinburgh, currently working on her first novel as winner of the #WeArethe1in4 competition with Gingerbread and Trapeze Books. Jemma is mum to seven-year-old Archie and works part-time as a project manager for The University of Edinburgh.

To round-off National Storytelling Week, she shares her advice for single parents wanting to write more.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to be a writer. When I was child, I spent most of my time in my own, or someone else’s imagination. I can create a character in my mind, see their situation, feel their emotion; I simply love stories. Getting the stories from my head onto the paper, however, has always been a challenge for me.

Before I became a parent, I thought I was busy. It was difficult to find the time to write. Fast forward to a world full of nappies, sleep deprivation and frantic pureeing of vegetables, and my dreams of becoming a writer had apparently slipped down the plughole with the baby’s bubble filled bathwater. I realised then how awash with time I’d been before, and how much of it I’d wasted, not writing.

There was a spell, post pregnancy, when I doubted that I would ever have the headspace to be creative again, particularly when I was forced to admit that my maternity leave couldn’t last forever, and I found myself sitting staring at the monitor on my work desk, slightly stunned by the rapid passage of time.

The thing about writing, for most of us, is that it isn’t an immediate priority and it’s often the last thing on the to-do list, being pushed further down each day in favour of the routine tasks; food shopping, clothes washing, taxiing children to various events, and of course, the day job.

Back in 2017, when my friend suggested I enter the Gingerbread One in Four Writing Competition, I promised her, and myself, I would make the time to do it. Being a single parent with aspirations of writing meant it was the perfect opportunity and, after all, it was only five thousand words and a synopsis; how difficult could it be to squeeze in?

I had every Friday free from the day job at that point, and so I would drop the boy at school and scuttle along to spend a couple of hours in the council library, where I’d found a comfortable chair positioned next to a wonderfully warm wall heater. I scribbled away in my notebook for those two hours and had that fantastic feeling that I was finally doing what I’ve always wanted to do; write.

With the competition deadline looming, I realised a couple of hours a week wasn’t nearly enough, and spent the last day frantically typing everything up, finally pressing send only a few minutes before midnight.  I then tried to forget all about it, because I didn’t think I’d done well enough. To be honest, I was a bit embarrassed by what I’d written; my own worst critic.

When I received the email saying I’d been shortlisted, I was completely taken aback; I couldn’t believe anyone had read my writing and liked it. Then I won; a fabulous moment marred only by my own thoughts that they must have made a mistake; surely my writing wasn’t good enough.

I’ve realised since then that in order to fulfil my childhood dream of being a writer, I would have to make a few changes.

Get confident about writing
The following piece of advice may be clichéd but it’s entirely true; if you want to be able to write, you have to believe in yourself and your writing. Fake it ‘til you feel it if you have to. Your writing will always be subject to scrutiny and criticism, some of which you’ll have to listen to and some of which you’ll be able to brush off and ignore. But whatever you write, there is one person who should always believe in it; you.

Make the time to write
As I mentioned, time has always felt like my greatest barrier to writing, and for many of us, it’s a real issue. The trick is that something’s got to give. I had to choose from a variety of equally important life tasks and, in the end, it was the housework I chose to relegate. I’m not saying we live in complete squalor while I’m writing, but I’ve come to the conclusion that the world won’t implode if I postpone the tidying up of toys, the hoovering, etc. until after I’ve spent time writing.

Find a deadline
Although writing that novel or short story that you’ve always had in your head is perhaps motivation enough, sometimes a deadline for a competition will give you that extra pressure (hopefully in a positive way!) to finish what you’ve started. Without the deadline for the One in Four competition, I would most likely still be pottering over the first five thousand words, debating whether to replace a comma with a semi-colon on page fourteen.

Get the right space to write
Many writers work from home and this is a great option if you have some dedicated writing space in the house, relatively free from distractions. I love the library (and its free heating!) when I can get out of the house and don’t need to organise childcare. Sometimes I write at a friend’s house if they’re out at work or away for the weekend. Wherever you decide to write, it must be somewhere you feel comfortable enough so that the temptation to get up and do other things is at an absolute minimum!

Make the decision to write
This may seem like a silly question, however it’s one I had to ask myself when I committed to writing a whole novel, having never completed more than a short story before; do you really want to write?
It’s often very isolating; you can feel as though you’ve bared your soul and had your heart broken, when you’re told that your latest piece didn’t quite enthral in the way you had intended. Of course, there will always be a mixture of criticism and praise because writing is so subjective, but if you want to continue to be a writer, you’ll need to take the knocks, dust yourself off quickly and keep going.

So, if you still want to write, what are you waiting for? Find the space and make the time. Pick up the pen, open that laptop or press record and begin. Be proud of your voice, have confidence in it, tell your story; because no one else can do it the way you can.