Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Misery Loves Company

WRITING UPDATE: Was writing with Zoe last night and managed to move a scene forward. Today's outlook is less good - busy day and evening ahead. . .

Last night, I met up with Zoe to write. I've tried this before with other friends, with varying degrees of success. At the moment, it seems to be going well for us - we're very disciplined about Not Talking During Writing Time, we have a flexible approach to breaks (if one of us is on a roll, we work through them) and I switched off WiFi on my laptop to enable me to be even gooder. I'm sure that Zoe would eventually notice the difference in my typing pattern when I'm writing versus when I'm chatting on Gmail (I tend to punch the 'enter' key quite decisively when I'm chatting. Wonder what that says about my personality. . .? Someone should write a book about that). I'm happy with the progress I made anyway, and looking forward to doing it again.

I did want to post about the experience of writing with someone else. I've done it quite a lot and have nothing but good things to say about it. As I said in Christine's meme, when I was in college I was involved with a group of absurdly talented writers (the Rooney Prize-winning novelist Kevin Power and the poet Ailbhe Darcy were among them, and in the corner was me, writing short pieces about the fertiliser factory in the town where I grew up. Luckily, everyone was nice). The group met once a week and followed an open workshop format, where everyone wrote on a given topic for a fixed length of time and afterwards, anyone was welcome to read what they had written. This was great fun, and I still remember some of those pieces. But the format wasn't conducive to encouraging people to work on longer projects like novels - that wasn't the intention, nor should it have been - and it was inevitably the funniest writers who got the best reactions. Poems went down very well too, because they're short, self-contained and can stand alone. There was a risk, though, that some people would turn up week after week and write for their audience rather than for themselves.

That being said, I still think it was a great experience for a young writer (I was seventeen when I started attending). It was the first time I had ever been in a space where writing was foregrounded. And although certain types of pieces 'played' better, there was an unconditional acceptance of everything that was shared with the group. Every piece was met with the same response. It could be dissected in the pub afterwards, but I don't remember a single incident of open criticism, except when someone asked for feedback directly, and even then, it was always constructive.

It's difficult to explain how showing up in a draughty classroom and writing about random topics made me a better novelist. But it did.

That was it for me and writing groups until I left college several years later (I won't say how many!) and I was unemployed, bored and trying to figure out what lies I could tell people at parties when they asked me what I did.

In the midst of all this, I had a similarly dissatisfied (but employed) friend who lived within walking distance, and together we would sit in cafes and pluck random writing exercises from a cute little book I owned called The Writer's Block. We were both 'trying to get back into writing', and it was a slow, funny and incredibly valuable process. We weren't as strict as we should have been - we did often meet up and just chat instead of writing, but we were still marking off space on our calendars for writing and declaring that it was important.

This period lasted about a year. I never said I was fast.

Then one day, long after I'd found a job, when free time was precious again, I was sitting in a cafe nursing a very bizarre intermittant headache and wondering idly if it would kill me. I had nothing to read, so I started to write a novel.

And now I'm helping to put together a new writing group with some friends, because I think that even the hours that I spent not writing, sitting with my friend in coffee shops in South Dublin and giggling across our closed notebooks, contributed to that moment when I decided 'Feck this, novel time.' It was time marked for writing, and it allowed me to prove to myself that writing was important to me. The presence of another person, even if it is just one other person, also implies a level of respect for the process, and it means that you can't just chicken out.

So my essential point today is yay for writing groups! Even writing groups of two that sometimes forget to write.

But don't forget to turn off WiFi.


  1. I was always terrified of ELS. I know I shouldn't have been, but listening to others read out their work filled me with dread. I'd think 'this is my generation of writers, I can't compete with this!' I'd then find a corner to curl up in.

    When we're writing I'm more likely to stare at the screen willing words to appear as opposed to checking the internet. I don't know if you noticed but sometimes I sit there and stare, for up to 5 minutes, I'm sure.

    (I'm glad we didn't blog about the same thing... I was tempted to blog about his mind :))

  2. I don't tend to notice you stopping, but I'm always paranoid when I pause for a while that you'll notice!

    I should have told you I was blogging about this, but it actually could have been kind of interesting and funny if we had both blogged about it. Especially if we drew wildly different conclusions :D

  3. Sounds like a great session. I had a writing friend come over here to write one afternoon and it was great. And I met my CP at Starbucks a lot when I was in the DC area. But here? Nope. That's why I started a mini support group. It's floundering a bit due to time constraints, but we'll work it out.

    I get a lot done if I am with someone, too. It's just a nice change of scene.


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