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!