Trips, traps, landmarks - part three



It’s often said that writing is a lonely occupation but, with the advent of blogs and forums, I suspect this is no longer quite as true as it was in the past. In fact, there’s a gregariousness about writers on the net that makes me sometimes think I should drop the PC in the pond and lock myself away in a garret, because the distractions are too numerous, too inviting and too enjoyable. It becomes too easy to spend too much time talking about writing and not enough time doing the deed.


Things weren’t always this way, although I do remember wishing they were.


Having learnt about Schools of painters and Schools of writers and Schools of thought when I was doing my ‘A’ levels, I somehow imagined that life as a Literature undergraduate would introduce me to a network of peers who would have similar interests in writing as I did. I imagined that, together, we would discuss and share ideas and develop a new, radical approach to writing poetry and fiction that one day would be known as an Arts movement in itself. (Yes, I was a romantic, and yes, it was necessary this should happen as part of studying Literature because Creative Writing courses hadn’t yet been invented!)


The dream didn’t last long and I remember being surprised how many people were studying Literature simply because they enjoyed it and not because they wanted to write. However, in my first year, there was a Writer in Residence---the playwright Olwen Wymark---and a chance to join other students in regular workshops as we developed, scripted and rehearsed The Encounter in preparation for a performance. This was tremendous, but short-lived, and there was little opportunity or know-how to maintain the network we’d created. Once Olwen finished, so did the group.


Consequently, I discovered that there were such things as Writers’ Groups and that one existed in nearby Twickenham, and so, swallowing my reserve and pretending I was gregarious, I phoned the secretary of the group, who kindly invited me to the next meeting.


I thought it would be held in a pub and that there’d be a group of other ragged-jean-wearing students like myself, but it was held in the front room of someone’s bungalow, and each of the dozen people who were perched on dining chairs or the edge of a settee or standing awkwardly against the sideboard were seriously retired and a good thirty or forty years older than me. It was a room of Harris tweed jackets and woollen twin sets, and the phrase ‘fish out of water’ sprung to mind when I was ushered in, introduced to the group and pressured to accept the honour of sitting in the armchair in the centre of the room. It left me short of breath and gasping for air---gasping to get out of there. The group were lovely and generous and genteel in the way they interacted with one another and in response to each other’s work, but they and I had too little in common, and it took me all of thirty-five seconds to recognise this and to start formulating an escape plan.


Never again, I vowed later that night, and have steered away from Writers’ Groups ever since. They work for some, but not for others.


Instead, I found the advice I sought and camaraderie of sorts through subscribing to Writers’ Associations and Centres. In detailing the successes and failures of other aspiring writers, the monthly or quarterly magazines were sometimes heartening and sometimes depressing, but always provided a connection and the sense that there were lots of other writers outside my garret tapping away in the solitude of their own garrets.


However ... Viva La Internet!

Viva Le Blog

Viva La Network!

I’ve been blogging and networking away for just over a year now, and it’s finally and definitely brought me out of that garret. After so many years, it’s wonderful to meet other writers and readers, agents and publishers, and to discover what everyone’s up to, what advice can be offered, what’s new, what’s being sought after ... It’s refreshing and enervating to shake off the loneliness-of-the-long-distance-writer syndrome and to have regular opportunities to be sociable awhile, to chew the fat and have a laugh. (And, what's more, it doesn’t matter whether I wear daggy jeans or a woollen twin set!)

Viva, viva, viva!

9 comments:

steve said...

Great post Mike. Nice to get a further insight your profession.

Can't believe it's been over a year since I first stumbled on The View From Here.

Keep up the great work!

--Steve

Mike French said...

Steve: Hiya mate, good to see you here again. This post is from my good mate Paul, who writes along with Stella, Kathleen, Naomi and me for the magazine.

Paul:
Great stuff: Live the Life mate!

kathleenmaher said...

Great post, Paul. Personally, I don't balance my solitary work with social interaction, either with other writers or readers or people who do little of either.
The internet has given me my first real feeling of community, but the question of when to turn it off and on remains. Although I suspect that people don't mind the bursts of contact followed by abrupt retreats as much on the net as they quite rightly do in RL.

Stella said...

It's nice to meet you too, Paul!

I can't do workshops either. For me the process is too personal to let others really dissect a work-in-progress.

Paul Burman said...

Thanks for visiting The View From Here, Steve. Good to see you.

Nice link, Mike. Thanks. Very life-affirming. And appropriate because I feel like I'm allowing myself out to party a little when I engage through this medium.

Kathleen: spot on. Erratic bursts of net contact seem to be comfortably tolerated. Perhaps because most of us are in a similar boat. Whereas in RL ...

Exactly, Stella. :-) It's been a good year in that respect.
And as for the dissection of work-in-progress, providing constructive criticism is an art in itself and requires a sound working relationship. Too often, off-the-cuff responses either result in bland praise or suggestions which only reflect how the reader would like a piece to be written---not enough insight into the thought-processes and intent of the writer.

Jane Turley said...

Oh, I love the internet and all the interaction; it's a writer's paradise. The trouble is I just don't know when to stop and get on with some real work!

Nah, it doesn't matter what you wear or what you look like on The Net which is grrreat. However, if people ask I always say I look like Cindy Crawford and write in the buff; I've had some interesting reactions. Kinda imagined you PB in a Pink Panther suit... now I'm all disappointed it's just daggy jeans!

Paul Burman said...

You should see me in the woollen twin set---I look even less like Pierce Brosnan and more like Miss Marple! But the Pink Panther suit sounds good. It might be time for a change.

kathleenmaher said...

Miss Marple! Paul you have a fantastic imagination. Just judging from you thumbnail, you look especially dapper and bright. And then there's your writing, which flows from a voice that matches that very same deft intelligence.
Writers may fancy themselves masters of disguise, but a good deal of the real person always bleeds through.

Paul Burman said...

"Dapper and bright" ---I like that. Thanks, Kathleen. I might spread those words around a bit. You're obviously a very insightful person and I think a few more people should take note of what you say. Cheers :-)