Clare Bowditch’s ABIA award-winning memoir, Your Own Kind of Girl, goes deep into love, loss and grief. For her first book, Clare drew from her experience as a musician to get through the process of endless re-drafting, as well as using the names of her songs as chapter titles. Clare outlined some key advice for other first-time authors.
1. Expect to feel self-doubt
Every writer on the planet has felt like they don’t know what they’re doing or they’re just wasting their time trying to write. Despite her years of songwriting and other creative work, Clare says she felt a huge degree of self-doubt during the writing process, and she warns other writers to anticipate and prepare for it.
“Expect to have a very, very, very loud voice of self doubt there. That’s completely normal. That is your survival brain saying just stick to the norm,” she says. “My process was incredibly messy, full of self doubt… my only saving grace is that I kept showing up. And I kept asking for support and help along the way. I really did.”
2. Create a support network
To get her book across the line, Clare was helped by those around her, and she advises that it’s vital for other writers to have some kind of support system. Whether it’s a formalised group like a writing course or a friend with a keen eye for punctuation or other resources, having something or someone to lean on will make the journey that much easier.
“We all need each other when we’re going to write a book, because it’s too big for just one person,” she says. “If that is your local library writing group, if that is your community group, if that is an online course, if that is your lecture at uni, if that is just a friend who said, ‘Well, I’ll read your book’, call on them.”
Having other people on board doesn’t only give you support when the going gets rough – it also helps you stay accountable and focused on the project at hand. Clare says that without the input of friends and agents, she would still be sitting rewriting the same chapter over and over. “Deadlines helped me, responsibility helped me. And commitment to other people helped me.”
3. Write what’s true
Clare promised herself she’d write the stories eventually told in Your Own Kind of Girl when she was going through a nervous breakdown in her twenties and read a self-help book by Australian GP Dr Claire Weekes. The book helped Clare manage her anxiety, and gave her an understanding of the power literature can have to comfort and uplift people. Still, she struggled to get the story out, with mental health still a difficult topic to discuss.
“I said that one day when I was very, very old, aka 45, I’d write this story. And 40 came and it was time to do it. I had tried many times before and I’d failed. I tried to write it as a book of poems, as a play, as a television script, you know, and it was just a bunch of bollocks – I needed to tell a true story. And I finally did.”
Past versions of the book failed because she tried to avoid the intensity of writing a memoir, Clare said, but this wasn’t how the story was meant to be written.
“The truth was, I couldn’t avoid that this is what this book wanted to be. And I had to respect that.”