I admit it – I have neglected this blog quite shamefully and it is almost exactly a year since my last post. Having our house on the market for two years and attempting to keep both house and large country garden under control for viewings took much of my time. But the main reason for not posting was that I had run out of things to say about writing and the writers’ condition. The online writing sites that I have used for the last twelve years or so have fallen into what can only be described as the doldrums and I have perceived a general lack of enthusiasm for giving and receiving feedback in this remote fashion.
That is not to say people aren’t being busy and successful! On the positive side, many members of my favourite site have now been published or have agents and potential publishing deals, so the process of online reviews has clearly been working well. I have had a few small successes of my own, including several shortlistings in Flash500, acceptance of a story into Twisted Tales 2016 and – tarantara – I won the Worcestershire Literary Festival’s Flash Fiction competition, with another story shortlisted. So that was nice! Sadly, the announcement was made at the launch of the Festival and, since I couldn’t be there because of moving house, one of the judges had to read my winning story. But there you go. I’ll be reading both stories at the launch of the anthology on Sunday 20th November, all being well.
The reason for posting now is that I have joined an actual live writing group in my small town and thought it was an opportunity to share this new experience. It’s a five-minute walk to the weekly venue so I have no excuse for not turning up, apart from family commitments, disasters and holidays. I have only been to one meeting so far because of the first of these, but I did do the homework, which is limited to 500 words on each occasion. I had also done the homework for my first meeting: to write a love scene.
My first thought on the subject was – AAARRRGGGHHH! I would never put myself in the position of writing such a thing, especially if it were to contain sex. I don’t enjoy reading sex scenes and I can’t imagine the horror of writing one. But when I had calmed down, I realised that a love scene needn’t contain sex and that many of my very short stories are love scenes of one sort or another. So I wrote a new one and read it aloud when my turn came around. It went down well, with hoots of laughter in all the right places, along with a collective groan at one intentionally sickly bit and even a tear from one member at the end. Who could ask for more? I also got some useful feedback, which I have used to tighten it up for submission to Flash500.
I was very impressed by the general standard of writing – and reading – within the group and all the feedback was pertinent and kindly given. Having become used to somewhat more brutal treatment via online groups, this made a refreshing change. But I do want the truth, 100% of the time. Anything else is of little use, but I must be careful how I phrase any criticisms. Coming from Yorkshire, this isn’t really in my DNA…
So my first experience of the writing group was overwhelmingly positive. My only problem arose during the usual end-of-session five-minute writing challenge. The topic was ‘a message to a particular member who is sick’ and could take any form. The fact that I had never met this person shouldn’t have been the barrier it became, but my mind went completely blank and I didn’t write a single word. The others managed some very entertaining, irreverent and poignant poems and prose and I felt really stupid for not producing anything.
This failure probably wouldn’t be a surprise to anyone who knows how I work. I’m not a jotter or drafter. If I have an idea for a story, I let it grow and develop in my mind until it is either forgotten or emerges fully formed and largely edited after a period of days, weeks or even months. I am extremely intimidated by the idea of writing ‘on-the-spot’, especially when everyone else gets their heads down and starts scribbling. It’s my recurrent exam nightmare all over again! When my turn to ‘show’ came round, I explained my predicament and was met with understanding and reassurance. Somebody said that the group is a safe place in which to try things out and no one should be anxious about any perceived failure, because it is about having a go and gradually building confidence. I hope I fare better on Thursday when the next challenge is set but if I don’t, I’m not going to beat myself up. I’ve managed three lots of homework on a given topic, something that is normally outside my ‘comfort zone’ – note the inverted commas, because the latest assignment is a maximum of 500 words using as many cliches as we can squeeze in. I’m not sure how this exercise benefits our writing but I’ve done it anyway. So I am already stretching myself a little further than usual and if the only benefit to my writing is that I achieve the odd submittable piece, it will be a good result.
I ought also to mention that it is lovely to meet new people and to share an experience, doing something at which we all want to improve. So no minuses, really. It gets me out of the house and away from the computer for a couple of hours and I heartily recommend it. So far…
Watch this space.
If you have any experiences of writing groups you’d like to share, please post a comment. Go on – scare me!