Writing groups – who needs them?

Our first blog post is from poet and novelist  Shirley Wright. As Shirley says, ‘It’s all about the words.’

Cautiously I placed a hand either side of the skull, reaching along the threads of memory. Dry beneath my touch, it began to pulse and murmur.
But the words had no meaning. They spoke a language of lost time,
singing of dreams beyond imagination…”
Shirley Wright, ‘How Old Dreams Are Read’, Unchained, Tangent Books 2013

Shirley WrightWhen I left teaching after more than thirty years, I knew that writing was what I wanted to do next, though I had absolutely no idea how or where to begin. But as a teacher, I had no doubts about the best route to follow, because I do believe in collaborative learning. I believe almost anyone can be taught, guided or encouraged towards almost anything if they want it badly enough. So I signed up for evening classes at my local uni, which led to my being recommended day- or week-long courses all over the country. As a result I met lots more enthusiastic individuals who pointed me towards writing groups of various kinds, and to competitions, magazines and events where I could submit my work. Yes, there were huge numbers of rejections and failures, but eventually a few tiny successes came along, then a few bigger ones. The end result? A first novel published last year and now a  poetry collection on its way.

For us scribblers, there’s been an explosion of writing groups, evening classes and weekend workshops in recent years. Certain members of the literati still look down their noses at such things, asserting in their rather snooty way that writers are ‘born’ and can’t be taught, though I suspect Ian McEwan might disagree. He got an MA in Creative Writing from UEA on a course founded by writing luminaries Malcolm Bradbury and Angus Wilson. Clearly, not everyone scoffs.

I’m a great believer in help, as well as self-help. I’m not an ivory-tower writer who battles away in splendid isolation, never daring to breathe a word about my current WIP for fear the muse might desert me or the idea waft onto the ether to be grabbed by someone else who’ll do it better. And ‘help’ isn’t exactly what I mean either. It’s more about interacting with like-minded people who offer suggestions and criticism (yes, that is actually a good word, not a scary or a negative one), provide a sounding-board to bounce ideas off, bring enthusiasm, a different perspective, reassurance when needed, a kick up the backside (ditto) and excellent coffee and cakes. Creative geniuses like Leonardo and Mozart probably were born that way – the rest of us have to work at it and can benefit hugely from support.

I’m quite certain I wouldn’t have achieved any of what I have done so far without the various groups I’ve joined and the amazing individuals I’ve  met who were willing to share with me their passion for words. I’m never going to be famous or make a fortune; but I’ve achieved what I set out to achieve nine years ago, I’ve learnt huge amounts along the way and I’ve formed inspirational new friendships. Like most things, it’s horses for courses, and you need to experiment a bit, dip in and out until you find what suits. But I promise you, writing groups do work.

Who needs them? We do!

lastgreenfieldShirley’s first poetry collection The Last Green Field  is published this autumn by Indigo Dreams .

Time out of Mind

Her Cornish mystery novel, Time Out of Mind is available in paperback and e-book from Amazon,