Zoë Scholtz, June 2020
Early in January 2020, it was a weekday, a day like any other. I was at the office minding my own business, working away at a spreadsheet. My phone vibrated, signaling incoming email. I glanced at it, but since I didn’t recognise the sender (Renate from The Writing Room, something about not mucking about …?) I assumed it was spam and ignored the mail. When I finally got around to checking the many notifications on my phone later that afternoon, I realised that the email seemed to require my attention: Apparently my mom had signed me up for a book writing mentorship and I had to complete and submit forms.
Incredulously I started at the screen, rereading the email whilst I wondered what on earth my Mom was plotting this time around. There had to be some mistake. Writing a book was something that proper authors did, not a task to be tackled by a bean counter with a full time job. There was no way that I had the talent or the time to spend on such a gargantuan project. The matter warranted further discussion, and so I phoned her.
‘Hi’, I said tentatively. ‘Uhm, I received this weird email now, something about a book writing mentorship? Do you know anything about it?’ I asked.
‘Hi! Oh, super! Did Renate send it? Wow, that’s so efficient of her. Yes, I spoke with her and I have decided that you need to write a book. If you don’t do it now, when will you do it?’ She stated excitedly.
‘Uh.’ I wasn’t sure what to say.
‘I want you to do this. Do it for me. It’s my way of showing you that I believe in you. I know you can do it, you just have to commit.’ She explained quietly.
My emotions got the better of me and I started to cry. ‘I can’t allow you to do this mommy, it’s too much’ I protested.
‘Just do it, and do it as well as I know you will. That’s all I want from this process. It comes with love.’ She said forcefully.
I have nothing to write about…
How did one say no to that? I couldn’t, and capitulated, submitted my forms and a few days later received emails from Kate with tasks and exercises. Following instructions I bought myself a notebook, completed the tasks, selected a quote and joined the social media group. I then waited in nervous anticipation for the official start of the mentorship program on 3 February 2020. I was all set to write my first book, except for the one small-ish detail of having not the faintest idea of ‘my book’ would be about.
The mentorship was hosted by Kate and Sarah, both of these enthusiastic ladies forces to be reckoned with, and highly skilled in their respective areas of expertise. The initial kick-off call took place via video conference, and I was more than a little intimidated – due both to meeting with Kate and Sarah, as well as all the proper writers in the group. Everyone seemed to have a clear idea of what they intended to put to paper, everyone except me, of course.
I was asked to introduce myself and explain what my book was about. I managed to get my name right and then proceed to fumble the response about ‘my story’, still uncertain of what topic I could possibly expand upon to meet the targeted count of 65 000 words.
Kate and Sarah had seen it all before, understanding and pre-empting what could (and would) go wrong before it actually happened. I tried to follow the rules, which included allocating slots in my diary to ‘bum time’, brainstorming potential book titles and sub titles, listing potential genres and target readers. Of course these tasks were all the more difficult, in that, I still had no idea what I wanted to write about!
The prospect of putting in print, what I knew in my heart was MY story scared me, I tried to come up with something (anything) else. After a couple of false starts (I broke one of the rules and deleted most of my first effort), I ended up frustrated with myself. ‘Just sit on your butt and write something, anything. If it’s all totally awful well that's fine, at least you tried!’ I eventually decided, beyond irritated with my procrastinating and myself.
Part of the process was realising I was missing information that I regarded as important. In my quest to gather missing details, I broke another rule (I was quite the rebel) - Never tell anyone that you are writing ‘a book’ - and discussed my intentions with, inter alia, family and a few close friends. These were the people I felt that I needed to help me fill in some of the gaps.
I soon understood why the rule of not talking about ones’ endeavours existed, and ended up having a full on wobbly. The mentorship programme included one session with Kate and one session with Sarah. I called on my session with Kate far earlier than I was supposed to, in the hope that she would cast a magic spell and figure it all out for me. Kate came to the rescue, not waving any magic wands, but firmly and kindly providing guidance and support as I worked through my emotions. Kate planted the seeds necessary for me to work through what I needed to (she was sneaky like that ...). Although I did still manage to indulge in a serious bout of self-doubt and fear, I eventually lost patience with myself.
‘Just try Zoë, you can throw it in the dustbin at the end’ was what I eventually concluded.
And so, I started to write…
The more I wrote, the easier it became and before I knew it, I was well ahead of my word count goal.
The dreaded ‘thing’ I had to write developed a mind all its own and became ‘my story’, the recounting of a journey that was not only profoundly mine, but also one that had impacted many people in my life. In fact, a lot of the time it felt as if the words came out as they wished to. Once I started, they seemed to magically appear in black and white on the page in front of me, even if I had wanted to - I couldn’t stop until I was done.
Next level multi-tasking
At the end of April 2020, I finished my first draft. It was ugly, it was raw, and it was AWFUL, but it was finished! I had purposely delayed booking my session with Sarah, as I wanted to send her my finished first draft before our meeting. I had been cutting it fine to finish everything in time, and was acutely aware that there were numerous errors in my manuscript. I didn’t want to send a totally dreadful first effort to her. Mom came to the rescue, volunteering to help screen my 65 000 odd words (yes, I managed to find that many) for glaringly obvious mistakes.
I stopped at her house on my way home from work, both of us still needing do some form of exercise to achieve our 10 000 steps a day target. We hoped that the process would be over quickly.
In fact, it took forever!
The situation called for serious innovation if we were to accomplish everything we had set out to do, and achieve our step targets. We decided to multi-task, and armed ourselves each with a pen and a couple of chapters so we could ‘edit’ whilst we walked around the nearest block. Fortunately we managed to avoid walking into any street lamps, although we did attract a few odd looks from the neighbours (we ignored those). We also managed to amend the worst of the errors so that I could email Sarah a first version that I was (reasonably) proud of.
When I eventually hit ‘send’, I felt almost as nervous as the day I toed the starting line to run my first marathon. I was petrified that Sarah would read what I had written, hate it and tell me it was only worth putting in the dustbin. Of course, I conveniently forgot that, initially, this had been my own planned destination for whatever I managed to write.
Somehow, along the way it had begun to matter, and to matter far more than I wanted to admit to myself.
I cared about what Sarah thought of my first draft. She would be the first person outside of my immediate family and friends that I would share my story with. I anticipated the worst possible feedback and was completely stressed out by the time I joined our video conference session. I was speechless when Sarah’s opening words were ‘I loved it’. Some 90-days after I had started, endless cups of coffee, immense self-doubt and numerous hours of ‘bum time’ later, I had written my first draft. Of course, this was not the end of the journey. The first draft was by no means usable, but at least it existed.
Being part of the mentorship program was a terrifying adventure. The process forced me to deal with many buried emotions and identified fears and insecurities that I hadn’t even known existed. It was cathartic, scary and exhilarating all at the same time.
Mom had been correct. She had been able to see what I couldn’t (or wouldn’t).
I had done it, I had written a first draft. I can only hope what I penned did justice to her vision at the outset. Mom may have started the process, but without Kate and Sarah I may never have finished it. These two ladies knew their stuff, they understood what it takes to get a first draft done and somehow managed to make the hard work seem like fun.
Of course, they wasted no time reminding me that I had a decision to make...
I needed to decide whether I would be brave enough to share my collection of words and emotions with the big wide world out there.