So as some of you may know, I was shortlisted for a massive scholarship for African writers last month. The recipient of the scholarship would get a monthly salary of over R20 000 to write their fiction novel, as well as mentorship and support from the foundation based in London. While I tried not to spiral into wild neuroses and overthink the entire situation, I will admit that I did check my email every now and then. I'm sure that if I hadn't been on honeymoon over the time of the announcement, I would have Twitter-stalked all the judges and other short-listed writers, then sat feeling empty, dirty and unable to write anything worthy of being shortlisted for anything ever again.
When the email came through, I half-read it like I do all the other rejection letters I receive, picking up the words 'unfortunately' and 'tough decision' and quickly closing it. I lay back on the hotel bed, determined to be tough about this one and not cry like I did with previous writing failures. It's fine, really. I don't need some scholarship, but I really, really wanted it. For once, I just wanted to open that email and read, 'congratulations.'
Thing is, you spend most of your life as a writer waiting for someone to say yes. This is rooted in the hope that this validation will somehow lead you to a path that's easier, one where your heart is lighter. The truth is, life as a writer is hard. Not as hard as the women I saw in Indonesia building a temple from the ground by carrying each stone on their head. Not as hard a cleaner, or an underpaid, exploited factory worker. It is more a persistent existential bleakness, humming with the pervasive fear that nobody will ever see you and your writing will never reach its readers.
So why do I put myself through it? Surely there are more linear routes to success? I've lost count of the number of wise old souls who have told me that writing is hard. I always wish I had the guts to reply, "What is the alternative then? Is there any joy in life that doesn't come with a little hard work?" If you love writing, there is no alternative, ideal state. Telling stories is the one thing you love and do best. Not writing would be the greatest hell of all.
This is what I've realised: the spirit of my writing, the tangible joy of it, does not lie in awards or recognition. I'll admit, those things will allow me to reach more readers, but its not what I should be striving towards. The best part of any creative endeavour takes place alone, when you are taking that raw emotion and shaping it into words, clay, images or music. It's not my turn to be in the spotlight, but, like before I was shortlisted, it remains my turn to write.
I think this applies to many of us. I like to write goals for the New Year, and like many people, these goals include all sorts of milestones I want to reach. I still believe in doing this, as it is heartening to go on any journey and see the final destination taking shape in the distance. However, this year, my goals are more about doing, and less about affirming myself in the eyes of others, whether it be through my achievements, my bank balance or my body.
So who knows what victories and failures this year holds. Maybe you'll surpass your own expectations. Maybe you'll disappoint yourself. Either way, it's a beautiful, tangled process in which we grow and move forward despite ourselves. We may as well be present and find integrity in every moment.