Previously, I thought that you have to be born special to become a writer. I pictured Hemingway, hunched over his typewriter at his studio in Key West, a salty sea breeze coming through the window, as if gently blowing inspiration into the room. I thought of Joanne Rowling hiding from the rain in the Elephant House cafe in Edinburgh, inventing rules of Quidditch. And I was pretty convinced that I don’t have a fiction writing bone in my body.
Reading Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers and later describing how he challenged the traditional view of success as a simple product of extraordinary natural ability in a Life Tonic article 10,000 hours, I discovered that to become good at something, I just had to practise. Gladwell cites a study done in the early 1990s by the psychologist K. Anders Ericsson who concluded that a violinist became a virtuoso after about 10,000 hours of practice. The same rule applies to experts in any other field. 10,000 hours is equivalent to approximately 10 years. Gulp.
It’s not like I am aspiring to write the next Wolf Hall and bank a Booker prize. I just want to feel like a writer, to "feel absorbed, preoccupied, fulfilled", quoting broadcaster and writer Sue Perkins. I want to give it a go and own it. At the end of this year I’d like to get a sense of achievement - not by looking at my bank account or a new gadget or even at the names of countries I’ve managed to cross off my 'bucket list'. And so I grabbed hold of an idea I’ve been entertaining in my head for a while and set sail.
The idea was to write short stories about my maternal grandmother and my childhood in the Soviet Union. I wanted to dip into my memories of those strange days and pay tribute to my babushka, who would have turned one hundred this year.
A marathon race starts with a first twenty minute training run. Writing starts with committing time and sticking to it. I began writing this summer, when I was staying with my parents in Russia. I’d have breakfast with my mum, make myself a cup of coffee and settle in with my laptop. The discipline I have acquired writing for Life Tonic paid off: I wrote four stories in two weeks. I set the ball rolling.
Back in London, I found myself a freelance editor, recommended by my friend and novelist Polly Courtney. I wrote three more stories and I found a brilliant illustrator, Alexandra Burda, who created beautiful illustrations for my stories and produced a stunning book cover.
I am currently working on the final edit, tweaking the typography and the layout of the book and will soon publish my stories on Kindle. Of course, Life Tonic readers will hear about it first!
"I am happy. I think I feel like a writer”. I am quoting Sue Perkins again.