I feel full of energy today. It’s lunch time and I’ve already rattled off 1200 words of decent writing. Yesterday I met with my writing group and I shared my great master plan – the outline for the novel I’ve been dabbling with for four or five years.
Writing a book never feels like a real thing when it’s just a mess of Word documents on your Dropbox, only ever read by you. It feels like a pipedream. Just an indulgence, perhaps. Is it merely something I comfort myself with when I don’t feel interesting or clever enough? These are the doubts that can seep in.
Today, though, this novel feels much more solid. I encourage myself with the thought that all writers are just human beings, and every piece of literature starts life as a bunch of notes and scribbles. All writers write rubbish. Even F Scott Fitzgerald. Even Harper Lee. They’re just humans – but their genius came out because THEY KEPT GOING.
This was the main message I gained from writing group yesterday. I value this group of people so much… there are twelve or so of us, all alumni of the Masters in Creative Writing at Oxford Brookes. We’re a mixture of men and women, all ages, some with children, some with grandchildren – perhaps a rather disparate group of people, apart from our interests in literature. I’m not a fully fledged published writer, but many of them are. I’m talking deals with the big publishers, but also small presses, poetry magazines, and self publishing. Whatever our levels of experience, theirs an equality and supportive atmosphere in this group. My fellow writers’ advice is just as thoughtful, detailed and practical as the guidance our university lecturers gave us. They’re well trained. They’re experts, each of them. We all read different things, have different life experiences… and this is all so valuable.
Now, I’m conscious that not every writing group is quite as wonderful as mine. I’d suggest that if you’re serious about writing, and you want to surround yourself with others who are properly serious too, then something like an MA or an Arvon course is worth the money. This isn’t because of the ‘teaching’ – it’s because of the peers you’ll meet. If they’re paying for the experience, you know they value writing as much as you do.
I’ve never tried to sign up to a more casual writing group, but I’d be worried about doing so. What if the other writers are not up to the task of giving vigorous feedback? What if I spend most of my time correcting their grammar? I do enough of that in my day job. I wouldn’t have the patience to support newbie writers who were just dabbling… and maybe that’s selfish, but it’s true.
Still, paid writing courses are expensive, and not everyone can do it. Maybe it could be worth a shot. I’m intrigued by poetry and short story slams. There are artsy bars and pubs that do that around here, and I’ve heard of local libraries doing it too. Anything that makes you read out your work and feel it as something real has got to be of some value. I’ve read out my work in public a few times now, and it’s an amazing rush.
Hearing my fellow writers discuss my characters and themes like they’re in a real book felt a bit like magic, and I’m still going on that energy. I feel much more confident now that I have a bit more than a bunch of notes. I have a novel. I’ve had one for a while, I’ve just not had the confidence to crack on with it. Today, the process of writing felt different: I felt myself just getting on, without thinking too much. I stopped second guessing myself. I just went with it. I have a plan, I know roughly where I’m going… but there’s a freedom and joy to that too.
It’s back to school next week, which will make it harder to keep going… but I must. I’m going to find the discipline to write as often as I can, and I’m going to keep going to my writing group. Even when I’m tired, and I think I don’t have the energy… because stuff like this gives you the energy. It’s going to be so much fun.