Writing to Catch the Imperfection

Ataria reading Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

This journal entry for Te Papa Tupu is a week late. Late, late, late, late. As one of the selected writers for Te Papa Tupu, we have only a few jobs. To work on our manuscript and write one blog post per month. ONE. You might think this is not a lot. That would be a true statement. If I’m perfectly honest with myself, I haven’t been able to write this because I don’t have anything to write about. I haven’t been feeling inspired; lately, no juicy revelation has spurred me on to journal blog writing paradise. Maybe I’ve lost all my enthusiasm. Perhaps I’m just overwhelmed by it all.

I suppose I should write about how amazing it is to be part of Te Papa Tupu. How amazing it would be to be a published writer, or even better, a professional paid writer. Making a career out of something I love. Except sometimes I wonder, would life be any better if I was paid to write every single day? What if I didn’t feel inspired … like I don’t right now? Would being paid to put pen to page provide any more impetus than being a part of the Te Papa Tupu does now? Would sitting in an office or shed every day with my computer provide me with the writing life that I think I want?

Nothing is perfect; that much I’ve learnt on this journey. My flight from Wellington to Auckland for the second Te Papa Tupu workshop was cancelled. Cancelled. Eagerly, I was dropped at Wellington airport at 7 a.m. for an 8 a.m. flight. Sadly, I didn’t arrive into Auckland until 5 p.m., missing the entire workshop. A workshop that just happened to be with indigenous Australian author Dr Anita Heiss and Māori author Dr Paula Morris. This totally sucked. But it happened. No, I didn’t get to meet Anita Heiss. I didn’t get to catch up with my mentor. There was no second Te Papa Tupu workshop (at least for me).

See things aren’t perfect. Life isn’t perfect. The challenge is, how do we keep writing amongst the imperfection? Or is that the point. Are we meant to capture the flaws of life in our writing? Are our lives imperfect and even the perfect writing life incomplete because without imperfection we wouldn’t have anything to write about, nothing to inspire, nothing to piss off or annoy, get the blood boiling, the heart-pumping?

Why do I write? To escape. To create the worlds that I want to live in. Create the worlds that other authors haven’t yet created for me. Do I care if people read my worlds? Not so much as I care that I got to experience it. Maybe that’s what writing is about. Escaping. Escaping the imperfection, the mistakes, the missed workshops, the cancelled flights, the letdowns, the lack of inspiration. Escaping it all into a good book, or even better, into my own writing.


Ataria Rangipikitia Sharman (Tapuika, Ngāpuhi) loves writing. Sometimes what she writes is good and sometimes it isn’t. But she persists nevertheless, in the form of essays, poetry and articles. Ataria’s writing has been published on E-Tangata and you can follow her poetry on Instagram @atariarangipikitia.

A Void

It feels like I’m sending these journals into a void. Like an actual journal, for my eyes only, which is kinda freeing.

I had writer’s block until recently. Prior to that, I wrote a short story about a Japanese piano teacher who goes on a surfing trip to deal with a broken heart. This melancholy tale poured out of me in two or three days. Working in the second person for the first time gave me a sense of urgency that propelled the story forward, and I found that almost breathless quality made the writing experience deeply enjoyable.  I’ve learned that Voice Is Key. I’ve realized that once I have the voice right, the story flows. The words come from somewhere else. Every creative person knows this feeling. You become a channel for the universe to express itself through. We’re all jonesing to get back in the zone. Where do ideas spring from within this state? The nothingness of a blank page. The collective unconsciousness. The void.

My mentor, the novelist James George, has a startling intellect. The kind of person who makes you feel like you’ve somehow gained a couple more IQ points after listening to them. Or more accurately, desire to be smarter so you can fully comprehend all the gems they keep dropping. I told him I was struggling with my short stories. Unlike writing a novel, which you can potentially plot out and continue moving forward towards an ending, whenever I finish a story I have to start again. Almost from scratch. New protagonist, new POV, new plot, new voice. This is a complication with writing short stories for a cycle. How many ways can you write about a thing? And I wasn’t totally sure what that thing was. There were many things!

James spoke to me about the notion of a controlling idea. He talked about Hemingway’s novel The Sun Also Rises about a damaged soldier coming back from war, a familiar Hemingway trope, and how this controlling idea gave Hemingway licence to roam through a landscape; to write about bullfighting and real drinking expeditions, changing the names only. JG explained that once the controlling idea is set in the reader’s mind, you can do that. I really liked the sound of this … how a controlling idea could give me some freedom to roam around too, in this psychological hinterland I’m conjuring that floats between Tokyo and New Zealand.

JG said, and I’m paraphrasing here, what truths are coming out? Is there a presence you can use as a controlling idea? The thematic presence is like a vessel where everything is being held like a bowl of soup; a series of reflections and responses to this central theme. It can be very subtle; a thematic resonance rather than a direct through-line. Every single thing doesn’t have to point to the master plot. Also, what are you leading up to here? Someone, after reading your short stories, will ask, well what do I make of all that? How close do I feel to the conflicts and ideas I’ve read about?

Plenty to ponder. I looked at the fifteen or so stories I’ve written and methodically listed their themes, which include loss, intimacy, the male gaze, mothers and daughters, the expat experience, dislocation and where is home anyway? A theme of running away emerged, which, although should have been obvious, took me by surprise. However, that was not my controlling idea. I realized that what’s really behind it all, although yet to be dealt with directly in any of my stories, is transgenerational trauma. Kinda heavy and something I’ve been trying to, well … avoid.


Colleen Maria Lenihan (Te Rarawa, Ngāpuhi) is a photographer. On returning to New Zealand in 2016, after fifteen years in Tokyo, she began writing short stories. In 2017, Colleen received an Honourable Mention for the NZSA Lilian Ida Smith Award and a scholarship from The Creative Hub and Huia Publishers. She is thrilled to be selected for Te Papa Tupu 2018

The Hardest Thing about Being a Writer

I packed my bags, hopped into my orange Nissan and I drove. A picturesque town where locals walk around in jandals holding surfboards all year round was waiting for me. My new home. The opposite from the big city lights of Auckland. Paradise.

And yet it was chaos. Finding a new home. Changing jobs. Adjusting to a new job. Not to mention, the week before I moved, having my wisdom teeth removed. Probably not the best timing. One day out of work is all I need, I told myself. I was, of course, wrong. Drugged up on medication with blood coming out of my mouth meant I couldn’t do much for a week except lie in bed and eat coconut yoghurt while dozing in and out of consciousness.

But all of the above? No one cares. The world doesn’t stop. And unfortunately, my book isn’t going to write itself.

In fact, if the world was on the brink of destruction, I still must put pen to paper (or in my case put my fingers to my keyboard). I still must write.

And that is the hardest thing about being a writer.

Honestly, I’ve always wanted to be an author. It’s cliché and cheesy, but ever since i picked up my first book as a little girl, I was hooked. Back in my day (I feel so old), we had a television with three channels that Mum never let us watch anyway. It was either go outside and play or read a book. I chose the latter.

Twenty years later, and here I am.

And I am close. So close. But the last few months have also been a reality check.

You sit at your computer for hours by yourself. Writing.

And you don’t even know if it’s good.

Actually, you don’t know if your entire book is good or if it’s really just a piece of crap. It’s not until your mentor gives you feedback and some encouragement that you realise you are actually a decent writer.

It’s almost like writing a book has little to do with writing and everything to do with diligence. And consistency.

Forcing myself to write even when I’m not in the mood. Suffering from ‘writers block’.

Forcing myself to write even when I’m hallucinating from very strong medication.

Forcing myself to write when I just worked a full-on day for my new job and all I want to do is come home, kick my feet up and watch the new movie on Netflix everyone is talking about.

And, of course, you have all the other personal challenges and trials handed to you that I don’t need to talk about.

Everyday disappointments. Sickness. Fatigue. Personal relationships. The list goes on.

But I must write.

I am constantly reminded the things in life that are of the most worth are always going to be the hardest to obtain.

That’s what diligence is. Steady, consistent and earnest effort.

And perhaps that is what I am learning.

I know all the work I am doing is worth it.


Shilo Kino (Ngā Puhi, Tainui) is a journalist who previously worked for Fairfax Media and has had stories published in Huia Short Stories. She speaks fluent Mandarin from serving a volunteer mission in Hong Kong. Shilo is delighted to be selected for Te Papa Tupu 2018.