I remember this time last year. I was on maternity leave with my two-month old who was gradually starting to settle. During those early weeks while she slept I managed to finish the initial draft of my first novel that I had been working on for some time. I wondered Now what? Where do I go from here? As a new mother, and a doctor before that, the literary world seemed an exotic realm, behind glass; an aquarium. I carefully watched other writers: authors, journalists, bloggers. I wanted to be in there with them, but couldn’t find the entrance.
Eventually after late-night web-surfing I found my answer: a course at the NSW Writers Centre called “From First draft to polished manuscript.” This. I thought, and signed up.
That series was my way in to the writing world, a rabbit-hole I fell further into in the following months. I learned valuable lessons about structure and characterisation. I workshopped my writing with others for the first time. It was here I met the three other members of my writers group; an eclectic group of talented, witty and kind people who have made me a better writer.
I knew the mantra about the only way to become a writer: write. This is true, but I also needed direction about what to do after: how to redraft, who to send it to, when and how to submit for publications, to editors, in competitions. How to know when a piece is finished. How not to give up.
Some of the highlights for me this year have been having a poem and memoir piece published in the Hunter Writers Centre Grieve Anthology, and seeing my name up in lights as part of the Queensland Writers Centre #8WordStory. I reworked my manuscript twice and then sent it to my excellent editor Kate Goldsworthy, who completed a thorough and thoughtful review and has provided me with a blue-print for how to finish the work. I still have four pieces submitted for publications am awaiting my fate regarding these. I started a dedicated creative Instagram account over at @sarahsassonwrites.
In September, I read my first post for this blog site more than ten times, trying to summon the courage to post it online. It was like waiting to dive into water from a great height. What will happen? My hand shook as I published the page. It was exhilarating and terrifying sending out thoughts as words, into the world. The result? People read it, and responded, and I spent the next couple of days having interesting online conversations. Then activity died down and I started thinking about what I would write next.
Of course, there have been setbacks. I have a poem that has not found a home. Along with 578 others I did not win the Richell Prize for emerging writers. Part of the unexpected fallout from not advancing in the competition was connecting with others who’d entered. In the past year I have met so many wonderful writers, mainly through twitter, Instagram and other forums. The camaraderie I have found through this community is beyond anything I could have imagined. I am particularly grateful to Michelle Barraclough, Louise Allan and Jacquie Garton-Smith, all who I have never met in real life but who offer me regular advice, encouragement and insights.
I am taking a break from my manuscript for now, letting the editing dust settle so I can see my work with new eyes when I begin again in 2018. I hope to build my novel up into a more finished product, with the hope of contacting agents after that.
December has come around again, but things feel different now. I’m no longer pressing my nose up against the glass; I’m on the other side: in that wide-eyed state of being overwhelmed the moment after submersion. I’m looking around the topography, getting used to the light and seeing who else is nearby; I’m beating my legs and remembering to breathe. I’m learning how to go.