Chances are you’ve been lost in limbo at some point on your writing journey and an opportunity to take a step forward has presented itself. To be considered, you have to put your writing out there but you’re terrified it will be rejected, you’ll be rejected. This is how writer Ashlee Sturme was feeling when she applied for the mentoring programme, Te Papa Tupu. She shares the steps she took to apply and her hopes for the journey ahead.
I have been feeling suspended. A limbo dance, caught between a stable past and an uncertain future.
Tentative leaps from rock to rock, exploring.
It’s hard to let go of what you know, of what is safe and true and sure, to step into what could be rejection or hurt. All those ‘what-ifs’ and anxiety like ants crawling across bare skin.
You know what? At this point in my life, I’ve got more to lose than gain … I think.
To be brave is reaching out a hand to a shoulder, and saying to the face that turns at the touch, “kia ora. This is me …”
To be brave is to be vulnerable, says Brené Brown, and when I hit the ‘submit’ button for Te Papa Tupu, 2020, I am feeling all scared and no brave.
I’m still buzzing about being selected for Te Papa Tupu. It is such an incredible opportunity and I feel really honoured. I know that’s a cliché but here is another: Te Papa Tupu puts me firmly on a path … no more skipping across the top of rocks. I am brave and vulnerable and I am me.
I’m here to be published. It has been my dream for so long. I feel like I have stories to tell but I don’t prioritise reading and writing in my chaotic life. Why not? It’s always felt … indulgent.
Now it feels essential – I am propelled onto this journey with five others and our support crew, and this waka is sailing forth!
Te Papa Tupu is the drive to prioritise telling stories and I can’t wait for the whole experience – meeting others, getting feedback, learning and growing and ultimately finishing a novel. I’m standing at the beginning of a new path and I really am so excited.
I would describe myself as passionate – I’m the girl that goes all in – colourful hair and outrageous shoes and a very loud laugh. I sing terribly all the time (I know this because the kids say, “Mum, you’re a bad singer!”).
I have an incredibly patient partner who suffers the windfalls of my frequent Very Big Ideas, and six tamariki who are passionate in their own ways.
I’m discovering my Māori whānau, culture, language and sense of belonging after being raised in a Pākehā world – it is an emotional journey. I write about this in my stories – the feelings of not being ‘enough’ and feeling somewhat of an intruder, of being tentative to reach out to others and say, can I be a part of your world?
I’ve been writing novels and poems since primary school, and now have a large collection of stories buried in my files and notebooks. Most of them are absolutely terrible. I have several tertiary qualifications in professional and creative writing, had columns in small newspapers and magazines, and written and edited lots of newsletters and blogs. I do have a couple of good stories though. I know they’re keepers when I get goosebumps or tears reading them.
Whiti Hereaka told me about Te Papa Tupu two years ago but I didn’t feel ready. When I saw a fellow writer post about it this winter, although I truly didn’t think I had a chance (I always feel like my work isn’t ‘good enough’), I calendared the submission deadline and went hard. The day Te Papa Tupu applications were due, I lost a significant chunk of my work due to a laptop failure (darn technology!). I went for a long walk and cried. I sat there and had all these big awful feelings of ‘why does this happen to me’, ‘why can’t my life be easier’, ‘why do I bother’.
It was literally a moment of taking a deep breath and saying out loud, yes I am going to do this. I resolved to go back and try again – as my four-year-old says, “can you just try your best?” I walked home and gave myself a stern talking to.
In the end, it wasn’t what I expected or wanted to submit, but I gave it a shot anyway. What have you got to lose? If it’s nothing or very little, then I say give it your best – life is short!
My process is best described as ‘messy’. I don’t plan my work. I just start writing and see where the plot and the characters take me. I can imagine the dialogue in my head as I write it. I am very wordy, and it upsets me to cut paragraphs or sections out, so I’m not a very good editor of my own work!
I’ve learnt some pretty cool tricks though, around character and scene building, planning plots, coming up with ideas, and I can’t wait to expand my toolbox and put it into action.
I have piles of books waiting to be read – my newest reading nook consists of a chair in the sun surrounded by flowers, otherwise I’ll lie in bed. At the moment I’ve been reading lots of short stories for my course – I just read some incredible ones by Alice Tawhai.
I’m not in limbo anymore. I am determined and energised and excited.
Thank you Maori Literature Trust, for gifting me an incredible opportunity. I can’t wait to get started.