Writing my memoir was not an overnight decision. I admit, it took me at least 48 hours to take the plunge. I am not a patient person. To a fault. To my detriment. The fact that it’s been 12 months since I started writing it, and it’s not yet finished, is absolutely killing me.
I had my fiftieth birthday last April, smack dab in the middle of the pandemic, so the lavish celebrations I had planned for over a decade, faded quickly and turned into a celebration of 6 females. Me, my partner, her teenage daughter, and three of her friends, all of them 17 years old. It was a fiftieth birthday like no other imaginable.
Moving from my native Ireland to Prague two years ago, at the beginning of the pandemic, was probably the catalyst that catapulted my memoir writing into motion. Having spent the majority of my adult life living in the United States and working as a full-time squash coach and professional player, I realised when all the leisure centres closed, there were no courts for me to teach on. There were no gyms for me to torture people on spin bikes and elliptical machines. Like many of us in this crisis, it felt as if the very essence of my being had been stripped away. I’d always done some journaling, and I’d dabbled in stand-up comedy for about a year. Some people thought I was funny. But I had nothing else.
I got a part-time job doing administration which required me to sit on my couch with my laptop. I went from being actively running around all day, to sitting on the couch, going googly-eyed staring at my computer. Yet I was grateful for the job, and the income. But I felt empty.
“Write”, she kept saying. My partner could see I was struggling with finding a purpose. Even the spin bike we’d invested in, sat in the corner gathering dust. My motivation was gone.
“Write what?” I said one morning. “All I can write about is what I know. No-one’s interested in that”.
She laughed out loud. “There’s your answer. Write about what you know. Write for yourself, not for anyone else.”
So, in December of 2020, I started writing. After at least 2 days, my impatience got the better of me. I wanted to know how to write a memoir, how long it would take, and when would it be published. A friend of mine who writes for the Irish Times suggested I check out Inkwell, which I did, was satisfied after a quick peruse through the site, and I joined. Within minutes I’d found a memoir writing course I could take. I sent off an enquiring email, to find out if it was the right course for me. Some very nice woman called Vanessa wrote to me, assuring me it would be the ideal introduction for me.
Eileen Casey was my teacher. The first story I submitted to her was about me almost setting fire to a Hewlett Packard plant in California in 1993. She didn’t believe it to be a true story, and reminded me this was a memoir course. I insisted it was true, and sent her another piece about being a lounge pianist in Dublin in 1988. She liked it so much, she suggested I submit it to Sunday Miscellany. (I did, and got rejected). I continued working with Eileen, loving every minute of it.
Last April, shortly after my 50th birthday, while browsing Facebook for Irish writing groups, I discovered Writing.ie Writers Ink. They were doing a week-long challenge, which of course I signed up for. Half way through the week of challenges, videos, banter, and the addictive personalities of Maria and Vanessa, I joined their private group. One of the ladies in the videos, Vanessa, wrote me a welcoming email. Turns out she is the same Vanessa who wrote to me from Inkwell.
Immersed in the Writers.ie Facebook group, I soon discovered like-minded people, received tons of incredible feedback from wonderful new and seasoned writers, and I felt a bounce in my step again. I devoured every single Guide, I never missed a Tuesday Live, and through the support and encouragement of the group, I started a blog.
A few members mentioned the London Writers Salon which was founded during lockdown and invited writers from every corner of the globe to join together for a one-hour writing session every day. Fully aware that discipline was my blocker, I joined the group one morning and now participate at least three mornings a week. It’s an opportunity to stare at the screen or write 1000 words, alongside hundreds of other writers just like me.
I browsed through Writers.ie for competitions. I entered many. And got nothing but rejections for the first six months. I refused to give in. Maria’s and Vanessa’s constant support and encouragement reminded me that no-one is going to do the work for me. If I want to be published or get noticed, I need to have balls of steel and put myself out there. It wasn’t easy, but at age 50, I have nothing to lose. I gave up worrying about what others thought about me. Writing makes me happy. Even if I’m not very good at it.
I took a few more courses I’d discovered through the London Writers Group, and engaged in some peer accountability. I formed friendships with a few of the Writers Ink group and we started sending each other positive reinforcement messages and texts. Every time someone posted a competition that felt remotely interesting to me, I submitted something. I knew somebody somewhere would have to notice. I’ve had 32 rejections since I started with the group in May.
And then, in November, it happened. I got an acceptance. To an online magazine in Cork called “Good Day Cork”. I was elated. Any excuse to have prosecco. God knows I’d used the ‘another rejection, another glass of prosecco’ excuse far too often. That one acceptance spurred me to keep going. The prosecco tasted better. It’s not easy getting beaten down, knowing you’d have to pull yourself out of the ditch again, and keep going. It’s not easy to have the self-belief that you are a writer, and the self-confidence to trust in your writing. But I kept going. I kept writing blogs, about my life, stories that were heavy and sad, but with a touch of humour and occasional inappropriateness. I had some wonderful feedback. My stories were helping people in a way. Strangers began writing to me saying they could to relate. Maybe this is what it’s all about. If sharing a whimsical story can put a smile on another’s face, then it’s worth all the frustration. I believe we all have a story to tell. As an older emerging writer, I continue to push on. If not now, then when? A wise man recently told me that ‘balls of steel are a useful attribute, so hang on to them!’ I encourage you all to get a pair! I shine mine daily.
(c) Orla Doherty
Visit Orla’s blog at: www.orladoherty.com