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Creativity as a Vending Machine: Catherine Deveny’s Use Your Words

Image by Tess Follett Photography

Image by Tess Follett Photography

A review by Shu-Ling Chua

Encouragement, at its heart, represents an attempt to make others feel that they have the strength, wisdom, courage, and ability to solve their problems themselves: it aims not to provide specific solutions but to make others believe that they can find those solutions on their own.

Alex Lickerman, The Undefeated Mind: On the Science of Constructing an Indestructible Self

Use Your Words is all about encouraging others to see themselves as writers and more importantly, to actually write. It doesn’t matter whether you show your writing to anyone; you just need to write. Those who already write may itch to skip ‘Part one: The truth about writing’ but it’s worth being reminded that even writers as prolific as Catherine Deveny – eight books, over 1000 newspaper columns, hundreds of stand-up comedy gigs and counting – share our struggles.

The actual writing is easier than you think. It’s dealing with the emotional stuff around the writing that’s tough. But I’ll give you some reality pills to help you handle it. I’ll bust the myths.

And bust the myths she does, with panache. Deveny knows her stuff and having taught Gunnas Writing Masterclasses for over two years, she addresses the obstacles you’re mostly likely to face.

What sets Use Your Words apart from most writing books is its tone. It could be pithier but it’d lose its spark. Unapologetic yet never brusque or patronising, it’s lively, accessible and meanders like a conversation with a friend. Deveny’s digressions are short and infrequent enough to avoid being grating. Despite the personal anecdotes, Use Your Words is never about Deveny; it’s about you.

Why did I write this book? It’s very simple. I can’t bear the thought of people dying with their music – their words, their dreams, their art, their voices, their true self – still inside them… Use Your Words is what I wanted to read when I was starting out and when I was stuck.

Chapters on writing while dyslexic (Deveny sticks it to those who tried to cut her down as a child), on finding your heroes, and on fear, deprivation, guilt and rejection stand out for their refreshing honesty and non-elitist take on writing. If you’re looking for a book on editing, how to be published or social media, this is not it. The target audience is less confident writers, those who are just beginning or too afraid to give themselves permission to write. Accordingly, she focuses on the three most common roadblocks – procrastination, self-doubt and insecurity – but more importantly, smashes myths about what a writer is and isn’t and what you ‘must’ do to be a writer. Encouraging a new crop of writers – particularly those seen as unconventional – can only be a good thing.

As a writer who is fairly confident, motivated and disciplined (most of the time), I found ‘Part two: Principles’ helpful in encapsulating old ideas in new, more memorable ways, especially creativity as a vending machine and creative work is like a mural. In the case of the former, the hours you feed the machine will not necessarily reflect what it spits out but if you persist, you will get everything.

‘Part three: Writing toolkit’ is a mixture of conventional (Pomodoro Technique, Scrivener, mixing up routine and novelty) and quirky (wearing an ugly shower cap until you’ve met your goal). Deveny steers away from being prescriptive and only asks that you do what works for you. I could try writing in white font to prevent editing drafts, for example, but then again, I already use the highlight function to similar effect. She gives you tools but at the end of the day, you control your writing fate.

Anyone can be a writer, if they really, truly want to be: ‘the ‘talent’ is to know it’s not talent that matters, but commitment, effort, application, persistence and working hard.’ Complementing Deveny’s practical tips are several inspirational stories, which lend Use Your Words an unmistakeable self-help tone. A lot of Deveny’s lessons can be applied to life and achieving goals more generally, which makes sense. Writing doesn’t happen in isolation from the rest of one’s life.

Well-titled, discrete chapters and Frequently Asked Questions assist readers in finding, and revisiting, the sections most helpful to them. Regardless of where you are as a writer, Use Your Words will have you reaching for a pen or keyboard. Much of the advice is commonsense yet boldly sticks-it-to-the-man. Idiosyncratic yet down-to-earth, this is a book only Deveny could have written.

As Dev says, ‘Motivation follows action.’ Stop being your own roadblock… and write.

Use Your Words: A Myth-Busting, No-Fear Approach to Writing is published in Australia by Black Inc Books.


Shu-Ling Chua is a writer, reviewer, Noted Festival 2016 Live Producer and HARDCOPY 2015 participant. Her work has appeared in BMA Magazine, The Victorian Writer, Scissors Paper Pen, Capital Letters Feminartsy and The Writers Bloc.. Follow Shu-Ling on Twitter and Instagram.




  1. 3 June 2016 / 6:02 pm

    “Anyone can be a writer, if they really, truly want to be: ‘the ‘talent’ is to know it’s not talent that matters, but commitment, effort, application, persistence and working hard.’” Oh that’s truly motivating.

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