In December last year, I did Sarah Sentilles’ The Word Cave.
It’s a four-day online writer’s retreat – so you have to organise the time, space and cups of tea for yourself – with Sarah running afternoon and morning Zoom meetings. There were 11 participants, all women and all but one Australian. I think all of us had published our writing in some form. An amazing writer friend, who has done 4 of these retreats now, has raved about the experience since Cave #1.
I’d been feeling stuck and blocked and daunted since the middle of the year so I thought – why not give it a try?
But when it came to the day, I was ambivalent.
I’m not really a joiner and I don’t like to talk about my work in progress.
And I was unsure about the project I’d dragged out from the naughty corner.
And I was feeling tired and sooky in the aftermath of nasty virus.
And I was feeling even sookier because I’d just had my very nice little kid’s book knocked back.
So maybe – with 13 books published – I should just call it a day and retire gracefully.
You get the picture…
Anyway, it was terrific. Sarah was a hoot. Open, sensitive and very, very funny. Spiritual, but sort of rollicking at the same time – which is a nice and unexpected mix. And highly skilled at the tricky business of connecting a disparate group and transforming a Zoom meeting into a warm, kind and open-hearted space. Listening to the experiences of the other writers, I realised I was not alone. That no matter how well-published, well-reviewed and accomplished we might be, many of us have doubts and fears about our work. Even full-blown impostor syndrome.
I’d entered the cave hoping to get in touch with my writing self again. I was astonished to find that that once I sat that sad, sooky, defensive, nervous and vulnerable self at the desk, with pen in hand and paper to write on…everything fell into place. And it was a beautiful place, too.
My writing self whispered, Susan, you know how to do this…
So I’m starting the new writing year with musing and dreaming. Spinning plots. Inventing characters and trying to get to know them. Not hurrying; for me, the hot weather is all wrong for clear thinking and frantic hustle. Listening. Trying to remain open to change, and to stranger things. Writing – writing a novel – can be daunting, but that’s OK. I know how to do it, and it just takes time. I’m not making out it’s heroic work in any way, shape or form, but writing is hard. It’s unpredictable, painstaking, magical, hideous and wonderful work. Though it’s over a month since I left the cave, I still feel like my writing self (soul?) is alive and well, buzzing and humming with ideas. With sentences, phrases, words. With joy and anticipation. Another writing year (with the caveat, of course; ‘all being well’) stretches ahead of me.
Sarah Sentilles has written many articles and books, including the moving (and occasionally harrowing) Stranger Care: A Memoir of Loving What Isn’t Ours, published by Random House in 2021. She is a scholar of religion, with a special interest in women in the ministry. She runs a variety of workshops on writing and creativity throughout the year. I would highly recommend The Word Cave.