Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Spring Fever of the Mind

I’ve recently joined a new writing group in my area after a long layoff during which I was working alone. Writing groups have always been tremendously helpful to me, providing me with valuable feedback while giving me deadlines to work towards. The deadlines give me the excuse I need to push writing higher up my to-do list and to justify pushing other things further down. Yes, I need to sew on some buttons and do my long-neglected filing, but the writing group is waiting to hear from me and it meets Monday next. 

Without my first group, I never would have finished The Province of the Imagination, and my second nurtured the early phases of Albion’s Millennium. The members of that second group also saved my bacon when our house was broken into and my laptop and back-up thumb drive were both stolen complete with the only copies of all my novel chapters. I was utterly distraught, but much to my relief my colleagues had saved the drafts I’d shared with the group, thus averting a nightmarish disaster and earning my endless gratitude.

The only problem with writing groups is that, in return for all the help you receive, you must also put back in an equal amount of effort to help others with their projects. When I say it’s a problem, I just mean in terms of time since I genuinely love reading the fruits of other people’s imaginations. Reading drafts in advance and making careful notes can be quite time-consuming if you do it with the right amount of commitment. But this new group I’ve joined – on the kind invitation of my talented neighbor, the poet and short story writer Sibbie O’Sullivan – takes a different approach. It meets every two weeks (mostly), and we each bring along whatever we’ve been working on between meetings and read it aloud to each other.

I was a little skeptical at first, wondering if the immediacy of the format would be capable of eliciting considered feedback, but I have been very pleasantly surprised. So far it’s proved to be an extremely useful and time-efficient way to get feedback and encouragement on my work and for me to make my own small contribution to the work of others.

And this new development has unleashed a tidal wave of inspiration in me. I’ve been turning out a couple of short stories a week and jotting down a constant influx of ideas and first lines. I even take a pad and pen into the bathroom with me so I can jot down the ideas that come to me in the shower before I forget them. I've been going wherever my imagination decides to take me. There’s a wife confronting her husband’s mistress after his violent death, a woman seeing her dead baby in Sainsbury’s, a bitter man facing a divorce and failing to understand how he’s alienated his wife throughout their marriage. I hadn’t written short stories for years and had pretty much decided I didn’t know how, but since starting with this group I’ve already had two stories accepted for publication. My personal spring has sprung!

With thanks to all the very talented women with whom I’ve shared bread, wine, and our mutual passion for telling stories.