Writing, by its nature, is a solitary activity. If you’re someone who thrives on a busy environment, that can be difficult.
Unless you’re collaborating on a project, the actual finger-to-keyboard/pen-to-paper part of writing tends to involve hiding yourself away in a quiet corner so you can focus on your current creation.
But it doesn’t have to be lonely. I know when I’m concentrating on writing a new poem, or the next chapter of my novel, I’m too absorbed in the work to be lonely. Or to notice anything else – my husband could wave a jackpot-winning lotto ticket in my face, and I’d be oblivious. But what about those times when the work in progress is neither working nor progressing, and you need other writers to hang out and commiserate or conflab with? Here’s a few ideas:
- write in a local cafe or library, with other people around
- find a writing group that meets regularly to share and workshop members’ work
- join online writing communities & Facebook groups
- sign up for writing workshop days
- book a place on a writing retreat or conference – there are many, worldwide, and depending on your budget, you can go to some amazing locations
All these options have given me a community with other writers, and access to feedback and support that has been invaluable in making me grow as a writer. One of these days, I hope air tickets and a booking for a writer’s retreat in Iceland will be waved in my face – I know a trip to the land of ice, fire, aurora borealis, trolls, myths and Nordic sagas will be great for my
always wanted to visit list continued writing development.
Until then, I’m lucky to live in an amazing location – New Zealand. Even luckier that I’m just a few km down the road from where Kahini run a weekend writing retreat each summer.
I almost didn’t go this year. I hadn’t been able to in 2018, but I’d attended the 2017 event, and it had taken me about a fortnight to recover afterwards. If you’ve read my other posts, you’ll know I live with a number of health conditions that make participating in many things a challenge.
Much as I’d enjoyed the first retreat, my experience of the subsequent couple of weeks was being flaked out with a head resembling a vat of candyfloss, a face like a pincushion for a swarm of angry bees, and joints that moved as reluctantly as painted-shut windows. It took 3 days of an IV steroid infusion in hospital before my symptoms settled down. I wasn’t sure that was a cost worth paying again.
And yet… call me stubborn, (you’d be right) but I don’t like missing out on things just because of my health. I’d rather skip parts of events and go to a pared down version, than skip things altogether (more on this in another post) – so that’s what I did.
Even my pared down version still had me walking away at the end of it fizzing with excitement and energy that comes with valuable learning. I may have talked my husband’s ears off afterwards!
What was so good about it?
For one thing, having an entire weekend to think, talk and breathe writing craft with other writers. Whatever stage you’re at in your own writing development, having other people to bounce ideas off, share opinions and discuss work with is a valuable experience.
For another, the quality and range of events on the programme. Kahini offers intensive workshops focused on different aspects of writing, engaging discussion sessions and plenty of space for writing, sharing and reflection.
Not forgetting that the whole event occurs in the New Zealand summer, in Waikanae on the Kapiti coast. I don’t know about you, but trees, bush, lakes, rivers and beaches are top of my list for special places. Waikanae has an abundance and there’s plenty of free time built into the weekend to explore them.
My only problem with the event was choice – too much! Imagine looking through a constantly-turning kaleidoscope and having to choose a favourite pattern. With six workshops exploring aspects of fiction, poetry, mixed genre, manuscript development and dialogue, there were at least four I’d have loved to do, and I was interested in all six.
In the absence of some Hogwarts potion allowing you to be in each one simultaneously, some things to think about for narrowing down your choices:
- specific aspects of writing you need to polish
- stage of writing process/development
- challenge yourself to try a new genre/style
- level of personal interest/enjoyment in topic
I’ve finished the first draft of my current novel and have been floundering with how to fix some problematic issues so I made my workshop choice based on stage of writing. But for the discussion session, I went with personal interest.
Exploring social/political issues and events via the human experience is a common feature of my poems (and my blog), and big themes underpin the novels I’m working on, such as loss, grief, bullying, child neglect. Fiction Writing as a Form of Activism, with Mandy Hager was a perfect fit. This was the programme blurb:
Is your writing driven by an urgent desire to activate readers, or to express your deep concerns about some issue, or to traverse a theme that preoccupies you? Should it be? In this session we will discuss the pros and cons of approaching writing in this way, and look at how you might achieve this without slipping into didacticism. And, as someone who believes fiction is the most powerful form to explore big ideas, I’ll put a case for writing with purpose to help make change for a better world.
Mandy’s case, in essence, is writers have powerful voices that can reach into the hearts and minds of their readers. Fictional characters can have the ability to inspire and empower just as effectively as any real person or act.
It’s not for nothing that authoritarian regimes burn books and imprison writers, intellectuals, journalists, teachers, artists, comedians etc. All these people have the power to encourage ordinary people to rise up and fight for change such as civil rights. It’s no accident Trump spends so much time maligning the integrity of the press, for example.
As Mandy said, in this time of impending global catastrophe, when we are facing imminent destruction of the lives we know through climate change, and when a few privileged voices work against the wellbeing and interests of the vast majority of people, it’s time for artists and creatives to step up and use that power for the good.
It’s what Mandy does, in her writing. It’s what I try to do in mine.
Key elements for activist writers:
- use empathy and compassion as your guiding compass
- approach your writing with a conscious desire to help
- write to challenge, to illuminate, to model
- write to make the readers hearts feel ‘seen’
- encourage questioning of the status quo
- underpin your writing with compassion and love
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