I was recently at a drinks party in a village some miles away. It was a lovely gathering of people, all friends of our hosts, but mostly strangers to each other.
You know the form:
‘How do you know Jack and Jill? Are you local? What do you do?’
I considered my reply options:
‘I’m a retired doctor.’
‘I’m a writer.’
‘I’m a retired doctor and now I write.’
That last one seemed to work. We could either talk about medicine or about writing. Despite the press coverage of a struggling NHS, writing seemed to win in the small talk wars over a glass of Prosecco.
One chap in particular drew me into greater discussion with more searching questions. He was a landscape gardener who a few of years ago had done the same ‘Start Writing Fiction’ module with the OU that I had taken in 2011. He had hardly written since, even though he’d enjoyed the course very much and I asked him why not. He replied that although he had lots of time to think whilst working, he had little time to write, and didn’t really know how continue without the tutor to guide him. He was approaching retirement and felt now was his opportunity to write more, but he needed some stimulation.
I found myself prattling on about writing magazines and short story competitions as a source of inspiration and encouragement. I suggested he wrote little and often to keep in practice even if no-one ever read his words. I told him these were the things that kept me going, along with joining a local writing class and working alongside other would-be writers, who gave support and gentle critique as I built my confidence.
I told him the other thing that can help is to find a writing group consisting of people you trust – people whose opinion you value, who will share their work with you as well as listen to yours, and where any criticism given is constructive. In the discussion with my landscape gardener I acknowledged that writing can be an isolating pastime. Most non-writers are not interested in the minutiae of your writing world, whereas a fellow writer will understand and enjoy sharing thoughts, ideas and problems too. They will tolerate your moments of self-obsessed analysis or times of lack of confidence and self-doubt, just so long as you return the favour. The controlled environment of a well run writing group allows this to happen. I do hope he finds such a group.