I AM slouched in the shadow of the world’s largest rock – Uluru – grappling to come to grips with how I capture its spiritual significance in words. I could pepper my story with adjectives dipped in red ochre, toss in the smoky scent of campfire, conjure up the drum of a didgeridoo, and talk in hushed tones about the sounds of silence. I could deploy all of this writing trickery, but still not do justice to this Australian icon. Even the cliché “icon” makes my palms sweat.
Instead, I relinquish my role as writer for this one afternoon, and take a cycling tour around the rock. It’s my first visit to this ancient landmark and instead of clumsily grasping for the toolkit of adjectives and mixed metaphors upon which I usually rely, I empty my head, open my heart and clutch the handlebars. It’s early spring and a cool breeze gives me permission to smile.
Relax, the rock assures me, there’s plenty of time to get the story. And it should know. For this is one of Australia’s oldest homes of storytellers, dating back at least 20,000 years. Even the traditional custodians the Anangu people don’t speak about the Dreamtime out here, which they believe suggests the stories, customs and traditions exist in the mind. For them, it’s Tjukurpa, which is more about a way of life. As for Uluru itself, it is considered just one chapter in Australia’s lengthy songline and to understand the entire story, you’d have to walk the length and breadth of this big sky country. My mind goes walkabout with the possibilities.
The next morning, I find myself standing before the massive monolith in the pre-dawn light, still no wiser about how to approach this story. How on God’s earth can I possibly capture the magic passed down among Australian Aborigines on the soil upon which I stand? I jot down the words “diversity and depth” and “caves and crevices” in my notebook. I could talk about the lilac hues as the first light hits the rock, but suspect that might be purple prose. I feel insignificant and to be honest, that’s humbling. This journey is not about me, or my story. It runs much deeper than that. I dine under the stars, searching for the constellations, but my writing mind is still walkabout.
Then, the next day, something special happens. In this land of ancient scribes and storytellers, I’m listening to journalist and author Margaret Simons speak about the art of modern writing. And I am snapped back into the present with her opening words: “If you choose writing as a profession you are choosing fear and those dark nights of the soul as a daily companion.” Mind reader! I want to shout to the room of fellow writers in which I’d always imagined I was the only scaredy cat.
Margaret believes good writers avoid sheltering readers from the shock of the real and constantly try to see the world fresh. They “think themselves back into the experience” and avoid adjectives and adverbs in favour of nouns and verbs which she describes as the “bone and sinew” of good writing. Luckily, for me, alliteration is allowed.
“Show, don’t tell. Simple to read is not simple to write. You have to take risks in order to achieve that authenticity,” she says.
“First drafts are crap. The only thing you need to know is whether it is alive or dead. You want a nice fertile mess. You just need to work out what it is you are writing about.
“Your second draft is about form and shape. Your third draft is your cut and polish. Take words out to gain power cut out the purple prose to reveal the authenticity.”
And in an era when I wonder whether there is any future for those of us who remain ridiculous romantics of the written word, Margaret says the one thing that makes this journey all come together: “Human beings have always made stories. Consider this rock, there is no human society that has not made and communicated stories.”
And so, I give you my Uluru.
The Global Goddess travelled to Uluru with assistance from Voyages Ayers Rock Resort (www.voyages.com.au); Outback Cycling (www.outbackcycling.com); and AAT Kings (www.aatkings.com)