I have always believed myself to be a bit of a lone wolf when it comes to work and writing. Looking back, I think this was rooted in pride and a young writer's arrogance that my talent was all I needed to sustain a creative career.
Yet over three years ago I found myself sitting in a coffee shop, anxiously scanning for the faces of the new members of my writing group. I had met Cath once before at a Writivism workshop in Cape Town, while Blaize had responded to my call for writing group participants over Twitter. It was just us three, a very small gang, and I was as nervous as someone on a first date.
It could have gone horribly awry. Any one of us could have come with a massive ego, overly critical editing eye or creative God-complex. Instead, we were all excited by each other's writing. Cath applied her experience as an English teacher into emotive, authentically South African YA stories, while Blaize brought his explosive blend of philosophy, spec fiction and sci-fi. I had come to the group (and initiated its beginning) after reeling from a sudden rejection from a local publisher (right at the end of a drawn out acquisitions process) and publishing a few short stories. While our initial conversations were held at Exclusive Books Hyde Park, it was only years later that Blaize and I realised we both drove across town to that bookstore while living in the same block of flats!
Initially we benefitted from other eyes seeing things in our work that we did not. It didn't take long for me to send my work to Cath and Blaize before anyone else saw it. They had the emotional distance from my writing that no friends, partner or family could bring. An edit was exactly that - a helpful suggestion given to help me clarify my developing writing voice. During our regular exchanges, I learnt to love the process of editing and being edited. We cheered each other on as our stories improved and we found new treasures in each other's writing.
We began to support each other through the myriad of subtle disappointments this industry serves on a daily basis, from crappy reviews, to short story rejections to missing the final list for a writing grant. We got genuinely excited at each other's achievements, from nailing a new short story to getting shortlisted/published/winning prizes etc. We understood the unlikely, small victories in writing, such as a good rejection. I remember how proudly I shared the personalised rejection letter I got from an agent overseas, a sign that something was beginning to shift for me, that my shaky voice was getting stronger. The good things came eventually, with much hard work and angst along the way, and I am so proud of what my writing group has achieved and continues to achieve. It really is only the beginning.
We are still a very small gang, existing mainly over email as I prepare to have my little boy, Cath balances raising her own with a hectic teaching schedule and Blaize sends us edits across timezones from his family's new home in New Zealand.
A creative career is tough - and we have often debated among ourselves why we write at all. A need bigger than our egos, logic or a grasp of present-day economics drives us forward. For me, when I nail that perfect phrase or open up a copy of one of Cath or Blaize's new stories, it definitely feels worth it. Because this is what I was born to do, this is what I will continue to work on, no matter how incremental progress may be. My writing group reminds me of the journey it took to get here - this current surreal place in my writing where I have two wonderful agents and a book I am proud of - and encourage me to keep striving, keep improving, and keep going.