Not everybody will share my view that for a writer, writing is not a hobby, it is almost an addiction; a compulsion that can drive us to entertain inappropriate and often criminal fantasies. I very much doubt the condition will ever be officially recognised, and I’m pretty certain there will never be any NHS funding for treatment (other than to advise us to keep doing it). But still, I would argue my case that writing can be addictive. If you can go with me on this for a moment you might understand why, given writing’s addictive qualities, I am constantly bemused by the fact that every writer I know (including myself) is so fantastically talented at avoiding doing it. Why do we find a million and one reasons not to write? When writers are writing, our social lives suffer. Many of us grow pale and sickly. All too often, our finances are strained beyond breaking point as we strive to feed our insatiable habit. When we’re really going for it, some of us forget to wash or dress for days; why bother when the only people we intend communicating with are figments of our own imagination and unlikely to notice? We spend too much time locked away from the world, inhabiting our own weird dreamlands, tripping through the realms of our imaginations, which are every bit as real to us as that other world huffing and puffing away outside our window. And yet, we find a million and more excuses not to write.
When writers aren’t writing, we go about our everyday life pretending all is well, but look closer and you will see we are restless, twitchy. As time goes on we may grow irritable, morose, frustrated, and eventually depressed. If only a perfectly-plotted, startlingly original idea would plop fully formed into our lap. If only we could find that idyllic haven, our ideal writing space, in which to meet our muse. If only we could go on a writing retreat. If only we had that yearned-for pocket of free time when life would just get the hell out of our way and let us WORK… Then our words of genius would spill forth and stun the world with their utter brilliance.
And when we forget about all this nonsense and just put our butt in a chair and write? Even on a bad writing day, when the words come hard and are clunky and crass, and our characters are stiff and dull as breeze blocks, the truth is, it’s still a buzz. A hit. And it’s not even, in and of itself, bad for our health. So how does not doing it make any sense? Why do we resist the very thing we are craving? No wonder all my friends think us writers are a bit weird.
How about you? Do you resist the writing urge and if so, what do you do about it? Does a writing retreat help? Or joining a writing group? Or do you just have a really harsh word with yourself?
Before I plunged without a map into the world of writers and writing, for some reason I was convinced that given the option, writers would choose to veer shy of contact with other humans. But the current boom in writing retreats would seem to imply I was wrong. Writers gathering together to write and talk about writing? What’s that all about?
For those of my students who enter the realm of writing as tentative, virginal explorers, one of the biggest surprises awaiting them is quite how much of a community spirit exists between writers at all stages of their journey. It’s true that much writing takes place in solitude. The popular image of the lonely writer holed up in their den living a fantastical existence while the real world plods on by without them, is valid enough – some of the time. But most writers will also work intensively with others of the same species, be they colleagues, beta readers, editors or agents. Being a writer is both a solitary and a social activity.
Writing is part art and part craft. It requires a combination of practice and study in order to become a master craftsman. You can study at home alone, or you can join a class or group and work with others. Many choose to learn and grow as a writer in the company of others who are on the same journey.
If you are dreaming of publication (go on, you can admit it, you’re amongst friends here) having somebody else cast a critical eye over your work is a crucial part of the writing process. The truth is, few of us can produce our best work without the help of others. Even those who have persisted through the drafting, re-drafting and polishing process while wrapped firmly in a solitary bubble will, should they be lucky enough to snare an agent or publisher, find themselves confronted with the need to work collaboratively on their writing. There’s simply no escaping it.
I believe that the writer who spurns the company of other writers is missing out. The support, learning opportunities and sheer camaraderie that come from getting together with other writers are not only fantastic for one’s development as a writer, but are also a huge part of the fun. For me, being able to drop out of the world of ‘normal’ people and surround myself with writers and writing for a sustained length of time, is a joy I would not wish to live without. That’s why I’m so looking forward to this November’s writing retreat in Cornwall.
It’s only August, but already you can sense this exceptionally kind summer we’ve been enjoying retreating to the hills as Autumn gets ready to do her thing. For the past few years, the closing in of night filled me with sadness. I wasn’t ready. Where did the summer go? Did I Blink? But this year, I feel happily sated, and I’m putting that down to two things.
Firstly, we’ve had a fantastic summer season at last – blue skies, brilliant sunshine, warm evening air – and this year I really have made the most of everything that lovely Cornwall has to offer. I’ve spend a lot of time lounging on the beaches, swimming in the sea, kayaking up the rivers, camping in the wilds, and enjoying barbecues with friends. The dogs have walked their little socks off, and though I will be quietly wishing for an Indian summer and a fabulous September and October, it would be ungracious of me indeed to resent the Autumn her turn. So I won’t.
Secondly, I am so looking forward to starting a new year of teaching – more lovely creative writing students to meet, established students and writing colleagues to catch up with, new writing workshops to design. But best of all, the first of our new writers retreats will take place in November, and I can’t wait. When Jane Moss and I were planning the launch date for The Writing Retreat, we thought maybe November was a bit soon. Perhaps we should wait until February? But I am so glad we didn’t. It’s given us something to look forward to, something delicious to break up the sometimes gloomy period between summer departing and Christmas arriving.
What are you going to do this year to cheer yourself as winter approaches?