And yes, writing is a solitary activity but being a writer does not happen in a vacuum. My most unpleasant learning experience over the past three years was realising that ‘writing’ as a ‘career’ involves other writers, live lit nights, festivals, emails flying back and forth. Being followed and unfollowed. Friends, unfriends and de-friends.
I thought I was choosing a ‘career’ where I could do what I liked best (be alone, make things up) and ignore all the parts of life I didn’t like (small talk, other people). I discovered that was not possible. In writing, as in every other career, there are in and out crowds, gossip, flavours of the month, scandal, patronage and shifting allegiances.
I don’t like that side of it. Me not liking it does not mean that it will ever go away. It doesn’t mean that I don’t ever participate in it, either. But still, I find people, in their networking aspect, frightening, mysterious and difficult. It still distresses me and drains me. Although I prepare better for it than I used to and have healthier strategies for shyness and anxiety than booze which, for a while, was my default defence.
I still like the odd gin, but decapitation works better for me now.
Like this: I have a work head. I put it on, like Worzel Gummidge, when I leave the house, and leave it in the hallway when I get home. Work Jenn is someone different. Blog Jenn is someone different. Blog Jenn who admits to being someone different is also someone different.
You see how tiring this can be? Someone could very rapidly vanish up their own fundament. If that someone weren’t careful. Taking refuge in third person sometimes helps.
So I say all this as the preamble for a post about a group I am a part of. Earlier this year, as I finished a productive, demanding and life-changing relationship with a writing mentor and I decided that to be the best writer I could be, maybe I did need other people after all. You can’t be mentored forever. But co-mentoring, or a group? That seemed to be the next step forward.
I hate groups. I hate clubs. I don’t join in with things. And because honesty is so important to me, and because I am the most inconsistent and dishonest person I know, in May (ish) of this year I started a club. A group. An exclusive writing circle. A clique.
The Northern Lines Fiction Workshop was modelled after the famous writing group that spawned Tindal St Press. I was in touch with a couple of their members, picking their brains, asking for advice and the benefit of their experience. Exclusivity seemed important to them, and became so to me.
I wanted to work with people whose writing I admired and was curious about and who I knew would be as committed to the venture as I was. I wanted to be able to meet in person once a month or so, which meant people local to me. I wanted not only to work with talented writers, but writers who were ambitious, who wanted to get better, who cared more about the quality of their work than in being stroked.
I wanted to talk about writing with writers who cared more about writing than in talking about it.
We’re going to perform together soon. And publish things. I am really excited about doing something small and loved and handmade.
We meet every three weeks. We take turns. We started off tentative but I notice us getting more demanding of each other, more rigorous – because we know each other better, because we trust each other more, because we care about each other’s work more. I think it makes us more demanding of ourselves too. As readers and critics and editors and as mentors and as writers. A loop. It works.