‘Our creative cake design team have surpassed themselves with this breathtaking celebration of colour and beautiful blossoms, guaranteed to make the bridal couple smile.’
I’ve been writing cake descriptions for a New York confectioner lately. And although each 170-word cake description only makes me enough to buy a cup of coffee – I’d have to pay in extra if I wanted a cappuccino – it shows me that I can generate income with my words. Which makes me feel pretty chuffed with myself. And it keeps the writing part of my brain active. How many ways can I say ‘yummy cake’?
For almost as long as I can remember, I’ve longed to be a writer. When I was nine, my mom gave me a small journal that had a golden lock and a tiny key. The diary had a shiny blue cover scattered with little summery blossoms.
In my first entry, I wrote: ‘I hate her, I hate her, I HATE her!!!’ The next page was filled with scrawled indignation because my mother hadn’t let me walk to the video shop with my friends. The third page was covered in exclamation marks, expressing feelings for which I couldn’t find words. Yet.
From then on, I’ve always had a notebook nearby to record my thoughts, emotions and impressions of the world around me. I’ve used my pen to sniff through the forest of words, to find the one word that gleams in the dark. And when I slot it into the sentence, I feel a corresponding thunk inside me, the satisfaction of something falling into place, like a Lotto ball that spins and spins and then rolls into its slot.
I wrote my way through my teens and early twenties and into the labyrinth of my first marriage. And then all the way out of the dark cave of that difficult time. My pen helped me let go of false hope. Hope that things would get better, my husband would change, our marriage would become harmonious. My pen taught me that sometimes you have to give up. Just stand still and breathe out.
My pen accompanied me to a prison classroom for juvenile offenders. Fifty young faces staring back at me, some scarred, some smiling shyly, others scowling.
I wrote my way out of my white middle class world into the world of crime and gangs. I self-published a book, ‘Inside Outside’, about my experiences in that classroom. The book sold 1000 copies, which apparently is half the number of copies a South African English fiction bestseller can expect to sell. But I still didn’t see myself as a writer.
In the aftermath of the marriage, my penlight illuminated the path ahead, it led me through the dark hours of the night with its little golden coin of light. And it helped me unearth treasure: rough nuggets of insight.
Then it became a rake, clearing away debris and fallen leaves so that seedlings of growth and creativity could unfurl their heads in the sunshine.
And then it was a sketching pencil helping me sketch the kind of life I wanted to create, the partner I wanted to attract. It helped me colour in what was most important for me and what I refused to do without.
And when my lovely man appeared, with my pen I cleared away the debris from the past that was blocking my line of sight. So that I could see him clearly and appreciate what I’d found.
And seven years ago, in the new land of motherhood, my pen sought out words to describe the unfamiliar paths I was treading, so terrified of stepping on something precious.
But if you’d asked me then, ‘Are you a writer?’ I’d have said, ‘No,’ (nervous laugh), ‘I just write bits and pieces.’
And then, something changed. I felt a strengthening of the resolve inside me. I signed up for a creative writing course and writing mentoring*. I began a daily writing discipline. I realised that if you love something, you need to do it every day. And I think this is what has made the difference. It’s moved me from ‘I want to be’ to ‘I am’.
I began to meet more writers, poets and editors. To immerse myself in South African writing. Discover fantastic authors and poets. And soak up the generosity and openheartedness of local writers (all of whom I have a quiet crush on).
And now, my pen is helping me redefine myself and my work in the world.
From last year, I started offering writing and editing services. And thanks to the generous help of my little network, I now have a few editing projects on the go, others in the pipeline… And, of course, cake descriptions.
So, if you ask me, ‘Are you a writer?’
My answer? ‘Yes. Yes I am.’
And now if you’ll excuse me, I need to find 170 other ways to say ‘lekker koek’.
*(All About Writing offer professional yet kind support for writers of all kinds and all levels of confidence.)