Cheerleading for Beginners

Can you cartwheel? Shake your pompoms? Flip someone high into the air? I’m thirty-seven and I’m far from energetic. I can’t do a high kick or even the splits. But as moderator of an online writer’s group, I am a wannabe cheerleader. I train with my squad, I practice new routines, and I beam like a teen at tryouts.

When I first joined the Procrastinator’s online group (belonging to RWA chapter ‘From The Heart’), I was lost in more ways than one. It was May 2012, and my first child had hit his milestone first birthday. I yearned for an identity that wasn’t just “Mommy”. I wanted to jumpstart my career – prove to myself that I might just realize my dream of raising a family while writing for payment.

But when the loop moderator needed to step down, it was clear that if no one ran this group, the help that I needed might never come. ‘Maybe YOU could moderate!’ The voice came from nowhere, but I made sure to give that troublemaker a sharp slap upside the head. I mean, I couldn’t possibly run an online group! I was unpublished, I knew zilch about the job, I had a baby who refused to sleep…

Despite the sleep deprivation, the voice wouldn’t quit. Damn it.

I fretted. Will I be lumped with more work than I can handle? Will I have to be a Pushy Polly? Will I completely suck? I was unsure of everything, but you know what they say – when doubt strikes, strike it right back. Something certainly struck me the day I rattled off an email to my chapter president. ‘I’ll do it!’

Volunteering myself is completely alien. It’s not that I’m not warm and generous – I am. (I’m super-modest too.) But first and foremost, I look after myself and those closest to me. Selfish? Perhaps.

By contrast, a can-do spirit is something I’ve always yearned for, and have admired in my American friends in particular. Could it be that moderating would help me build that can-do attitude, even if I had to fake it at the start?

Reading the posts of previous moderators, women who appeared a veritable troop of Katy Perry-like trailblazers, I saw messages of strength, motivation, hope and backbone. Writers were spurred on with phrases like: “Let’s do it!” and “Way to go!”

Let me explain. As an Irish person, I don’t think I’ve ever uttered the words: “I believe in you.” Not out loud. Maybe during mass in high school? You see, we Irish can be slow to enthuse. Like, allergic. We rarely praise. We’d much prefer to not compliment someone, thereby reducing the risk that they’ll get above themselves. (Heaven preserve us!)

I have, on occasion, been accused of thinking I’m fabulous. (My immodesty strikes again!) If you’re Irish, this is A Bad Thing. Similarly, being motivational can hex you as being dramatic and downright over-the-top. In reality, I’m prone to happiness. I keep it to a minimum, but is it something that should be curbed?!

As long as there aren’t too many of my countrymen nearby, this Irish lass can whoop and clap like a seal at feeding time. I started to think about the quintessential All-American cheerleader: dazzling, daring, dedicated. Impassioned. Inspirational. Could I swap honk for hoot?

Again, I jumped. In September, I snuck from the moderator’s changing room in an outfit that was too tight and clung to a smile I knew was fake. Behind the grin, I felt lost, under pressure to reflect the spirit of the group, to grab my runaway doubts as moderator and writer, and keep them caged.

As you recall, I joined the Procrastinator’s group, because, well, I put off writing. I’m great at it. So tell me, how can the moderator be seen to procrastinate? To fail to meet even those “ickle baby” writing goals she made so fervently? Wasn’t I here to drive the squad? Inspire them with my ‘incredible core strength’, show them how to jump with style, cartwheel with confidence and shout “Go, go, go!”?

Without advice, experience, or pompoms, I was far from being “writer motivator” material. I was way out of my league.

But I couldn’t quit. 

For one thing, my chapter president had put her trust in me. She needed someone to run the show, and if I panicked and ran, the group could dissolve. Busy women needed help. And as busy as I was, I was desperate to find motivation to write. And I did.

Since I’m a member as well as moderator, I participate in writing drives. I have to. Whenever my squad turns up, I line up alongside them. Even when I’m coach, I’m base too. I tumble all too often. Many a time, my word count is low. I take a fall, but I always pick myself up. Every now and then, I make the kind of progress that was once unthinkable. So yeah, it’s nice to be flyer too.

Looking after loop members isn’t difficult (not hard when they are as amazing as this bunch). Which brings me on to the best thing about moderating: the utterly superb people who call themselves ‘Procrastinators’. My buddies, my friends, my squad.

Our friendship, warmth, and support are nothing short of phenomenal. This past year, we have consistently fought procrastination and produced hundreds of thousands of words of fiction. Some members were published writers, and at least two more writers have joined that category, securing their first publishing contracts within the last few months. Bearing witness to their writing journey is my privilege, hearing them chant and cheer as they reach another writing goal. Seeing them accomplish so much brings me unadulterated joy. Nothing and no one can stop me clapping ‘til my hands hurt.

So what about other times? You know what I mean. Life barks every darned day. Sometimes it bites. And when that happens, members don’t meet their goals. Maybe I should snap or snarl or pull their problems apart like a T-bone.

I wouldn’t and I couldn’t. In life, I try to reserve judgment. Aren’t there at least two sides to every story? Maybe it’s okay to push a group, but never an individual. Even then, pushing should be an exception, not the rule. At least, that’s my rule. I myself have been pushed. I’ve been bullied, pummeled, misunderstood. Believe me, it’s not nice.

Compassion and an open mind are crucial in any job, and it’s no different for a moderator. So when replying to a member’s post, I remember that I’m talking to one specific person. One who has feelings, fears, needs, and problems that I know nothing about. Because no one knows your life like you, right? If you post that your day job knocked the very breath out of you and now your word count is short, I’ll believe you. If you say that your week was so tough you couldn’t write one paragraph, I’ll accept it.

Members have to know they can safely and honestly spill their results at the end of the writing week – be it a zero word count, or 100% of their writing goal. Honesty is crucial. From day one, I have placed trustat the forefront of this group. Trust shows up in many ways. It is faith in oneself, faith in the group. Trust that we’ve practiced the motions, we know the routine, and should one of us be unlucky enough to fall, there’ll always be someone there to catch us.

Now, if I were a cheerleading pro, I would drum up some inspirational quotes for my group. I could probably invent some new writing challenges too. Heck, maybe I could even become Pushy Polly! However, I am still learning. And I’m busy too, writing manuscripts, dreaming big. With every word I write, the cheers sound more convincing. Belief in my team has led to belief in me, and that gives this rookie something to shout about.