I tell my students to write, and they do. There might be a few moments when they look at me blankly, but after a quick chat, they begin. And so do I. Never set a task that you are not willing to follow yourself, is the rule I set myself.
We write stories that we had not suspected existed. Inventions and memories churn together to produce the bones of a tale in the space of a lesson. I call it the pressure-cooker effect, and if ever anyone asks me what benefits there are in joining a writing group, this is one of my main ones.
How does it happen? I’m not entirely sure. It’s a safe environment, for one thing. Everyone is there with the same idea: that writing is possible, even desirable.
Joining a writing group was a pivotal moment for me. Up until then, if anyone came across me scribbling in a notebook and wondered what I was doing I claimed to be keeping a diary. Oddly, it’s only since labelling myself a writer that I have managed to consistently keep any form of diary, but that’s another tale.
People tend to look sideways at you when you confess that you write. Especially if your other job is not office based. At that time I was doing out-door work.
So what had led to me admitting my secret?
I had to turn down an invitation.
‘So,’ came the reply, ‘what are you up to on a Tuesday evening?’
‘I’ve joined a class.’
‘Oh yes, what in?’
‘Um,’ I mumbled, ‘creative writing.’
‘Really?’ they said. ‘Why?’
‘Well,’ I said. ‘It seemed like a fun thing to do. English was the only subject I liked at school.’ Then I change the subject.
As an un-published scribbler-in-secret I had no way to explain to non-writers the importance of this development in my life.
Now, I can say that when I entered that room full of other people who shared a drive to write, I was joining a club. It may have looked like a dingy and battered classroom, but it was a warm and welcoming environment: a creative-writing-playground for grown-up writers.
Those classes ran for about two years, and I loved them. Like any good club, we supported each other, sharing our work and ideas and enthusiasm. We drove each other to improve by taking our craft seriously, and that meant more commitment to writing outside of class time.
It sneaked up on me, that confidence to say openly that I was writing. As stories took up more space in my life, so the people in my life, and I, grew to accept it as a part of who I was.
Can I sum all this up into one easy line?
I was going to try, but I’m not sure I want it to be that simple.