How to be a great writer

It was Literary Legends Week on the History Channel, so I’ve just about had a gutful of the greats all wrapped up in neat little digestible packages. Too much about their tawdry lives, not enough about the writing. A couple of highlights. Hemingway: wars, hunts, fishes, grows beard, dies. Fitzgerald: drinks, drinks, jazz, crazy wife, drinks, drinks, dies.

What did I learn about writing from this extravaganza? Milk your experiences for all they’re worth. Don’t despair over that pesky world war, your evil tart of a wife, that cancer rotting in your lungs, your penchant for cross dressing, those annoying debt collectors with the big guns, whatever, it’s all choice material. It doesn’t matter that your family hate you for so blatantly plundering their lives for your novels, because you’re bound to die young, and years later when your family has carked it too, the world will realise how brilliant and original you were.


Saturday afternoon and we were trundling out to Woden for the groceries. I noticed a little crimson rosella hopping around on a crossing, looking quite distressed. He would fly a few feet into the air before crashing back down again, legs askew. Two four-wheeled drives barreled over the crossing, somehow missing him. Our heartstrings went *plink*. My first thought was to take a photo, I’m ashamed to admit, and my second thought was that it would make a cute little story, but finally the third thought kicked in: must rescue bird.

We didn’t have anything to catch him in, so I came up with these genius ideas 1. throw a sweatshirt over him then scoop him up, and 2. the sweatshirt was to be Rhiannon’s (I only had my bra on under my top, and I am not quite that desperate for attention).

Up close we could see one of his legs was really quite mangled, so the poor baby wasn’t too hard to catch. Before we knew it we were driving around aimlessly with a squawking bundle of navy blue Cornell University cotton. It was 6 o’clock, Harry’s boutique vet wasn’t open. We were parked outside of the Japanese Embassy of all places, on the mobile with a decidedly unhelpful RSPCA person. Finally we went back home, plopped the bird (by now christened Walter, for no apparent reason) in an old printer box and went through the Yellow Pages. Soon we were heading out to the Dark Side (Tuggeranong) with our screeching box and trusty street map.

We pondered all the big questions during the twenty minute drive to the vet. Will he ever walk again? Will they have to amputate his leg? Will he have a little peg leg? Will we take him home and rehabilitate him? Do you think Harry would eat him? Or do you think they’ll say ahh it’s only a bird and put it down? Or just toss it to some cats to finish it off? Will they be that cruel? Will the bird shit come out of Rhiannon’s sweatshirt?

Finally we arrived after a few missed turns. Such a crisp, starry night, it just smelled like adventure, you know? Bird shit, and adventure. I felt sure something amazing and terribly worthy of writing about was about to happen. We rushed into the surgery with our precious cargo.

“Here’s the bird! Here’s the bird!” (We had called in advance.)

“Sorry?” asked a bored looking nurse-type with scarecrow hair.

“The birrrrrrrrrrd! The ROSELLA! He’s hurt! He can’t fly properly and he keeps flipping over onto his back.”

We pictured emergency surgery, elaborate bandages, a drip, the vet performing CPR with his fingertips, breathing life back into that little beak.

“Oh, no worries. Just leave it on the counter.”


“Just leave it right there. We’ll have a look at it.”

“You… you… you mean you don’t want us to hang around?”


“You don’t want us to hold his claw and croon tenderly while the vet checks him over?”


“You don’t even want us to sit in the waiting room reading ancient New Ideas and anxiously watching the clock?”


“You don’t want us to pace endlessly up and down the hallway, drinking putrid coffee in paper cups and looking forlorn?”


“You don’t want me to have great anguished sobs rattling in my throat when you tell me There Was Nothing We Could Do?”



“Oh dear, I’m sorry.” The nurse regarded me gravely. “But there’s nothing we can do. You’re looking for literary gold here when there just isn’t any. It’s a parrot with a buggered leg! It’s not a story! Have you ever sat astride a freshly slaughtered rhinoceros? Has your wife ever gone bonkers? Have you ever seen the sun rise in Bolivia or sawn off one of your limbs with a butter knife? Now THAT’S a story!

“But you, my dear, you have gentle, harmless little adventures. You run over cats, you lust after Olympic swimmers. At best, you’re a columnist in a Nowheresville newspaper, churning out sentimental fluff pieces that would perhaps elicit a toothy smile of recognition from an old granny over her cup of Bushells, but little more…

“I don’t know, perhaps you could even start one of those weblog thingies, I hear you can type up any old shit on those and some boffin is bound to read it. You may even be able to squeeze out a few more wacky anecdotes from that slightly dysfunctional family of yours. But unless you start living a little – having some torrid affairs, binge drinking, harpooning a giraffe – the History Channel won’t be calling you any time soon.”

“What about the bird?” I sobbed.

“Never mind the bird. You’ve done all you can with the bird. This is the way the story ends, not with a bang, not even with a whimper, more like a pathetic little fart from an expired cow. Now, on your way.”

About Shauna Reid

Ahoy there! I’m Shauna, an author, copywriter and content mentor. I love telling stories about life and helping others to tell theirs.

Find out more about me and how we can work together – I’m now booking for January 2022.

3 thoughts on “How to be a great writer

  1. My fucking gawd, Shauners. This one is literary gold. Seriously. Sums EVERYTHING up. Good insight, good telling, pacing, grammar. I fucking LOVE you.

  2. I agree, not only is this a fantastic story, it also leaves room to the imagination!
    True gold indeed.

    (Let’s call the doctor, let’s check the records. Let’s find out what happened to the little bird…)

  3. Argh… i wrote that it leaves room for the imagination. I wanted to say that it inspires to write an ending as well… quite brilliant, really…

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