Clearly, if I’m here on the MRWG blog I must be a member of said MRWG. And perhaps not surprisingly I think being part of a writing group is a brilliant idea. So why might I think that? There are of course heaps of rational and logical reasons why a writing group is a good idea, but rather than produce a list, with bullet points, I’ll give you an example.
At MRWG, each meeting starts with ‘instant writing’. We’re writers, yes? We may not all be published yet, but we still identify as writers. So just over a year ago we decided to add instant writing to each of our monthly meetings.
For me, at first, it felt forced. I had to instantly respond with writing to a stimulus such as a picture or some words. Something that the nominated member had brought in with them that month. And it can seem quite intimidating when everyone else is madly scribbling and you have nothing but a brain that has turned to porridge.
But as time went by the penny eventually dropped and it became easier and easier. I learned not to panic when I saw or heard the topic and stared at the blank sheet of paper. Just to let my brain go into neutral and see what happened.
Roz Morris defines instant writing as “splurging onto the page or screen, regardless of grammar, spelling, quality or any other critical issue. The point is to remove inhibitions and let the ideas flow, to connect with your creativity.” And she’s not wrong. Panic was a big blocker. Neutral gear was good.
The weird thing is that as I am writing what, for me, is largely nonsense it’s as if the entire box of creativity decides to empty itself. All those ideas and solutions to plot problems were sitting in there, blocked from getting out. Bit of instant writing and out they popped.
Here’s a daft example. Last month we had to pick an animal or bird from a number of pics. I picked this one. I have no idea what it is but into my head popped the word ‘ptarmigan’. I have no idea what a ptarmigan is. Maybe some sort of English game bird? But after I’d written the word at the top of the page out flowed this:
Being unemployed is so deeply frustrating when you’re a ptarmigan.
For a start no one’s heard of you.
Then no-one can spell your name.
“No, it’s not under T. It’s under P. Yes, that’s right the p is silent. Just like in gnome? Absolutely. Just like in gnome.”
Which, of course, is a silent g not a silent p.
But anyway… you try finding work when you’re a ptarmigan. The case worker at the unemployment office says I have to apply for ten jobs a week or they’ll stop my benefits. But: There. Is. No. Work. For. A. Ptarmigan.
I’m not being a job snob here. You know, the rocket scientist who refuses to take a job stacking shelves at the supermarket. I’d love a job stacking shelves at the supermarket. But I don’t have arms. Only wings. That’s a bit limiting.
I did get a first interview with ASIO, working as a carrier pigeon. Pigeons having got too grand for that sort of work these days. But they decided I was too distinctive. Too showy. ASIO wanted nondescript birds that would slip through un-noticed like sparrows or mynahs. I did say I thought I’d be good in desert country. I could disguise myself as a flying cactus. But they didn’t seem to think they had much use for flying cacti.
And that’s where time was called.
Complete nonsense, right? As Dr Seuss said “I like nonsense. It wakes up the brian cells”. So as I’m scribbling my poor ptarmigan’s tale of woe a little voice in the far dark corner is saying “hey, this is the Fair Princess Persephone, are you listening?” and there she is, stamping her little foot for attention. Now, the Fair Princess Persephone is a short story I began three or four years ago, which grew and grew, but went nowhere. Not least because there was a howling plot hole standing in the way of a happy ending. The plot hole was insurmountable and I mean insurmountable. So I put her aside and moved on. Except now the Fair Princess had something to say. “You know that gaping plot hole is easily fixed” she said. And she promptly explained it to me. Why she took four years to let me know I have no idea. But, you know what, it’s perfect. Once I’ve finished my current work in progress, then I’m going to have to go back to her and see if I can do her justice and she can have her happy ever after, after all. It certainly looks good from here and clearly she’s keen to get on with it.
I have no idea what will happen to my nameless ptarmigan, though I do hope he finds work eventually, but if it wasn’t for that daft bird the Fair Princess would still be consigned to her insurmountable obstacle.
It’s weird, isn’t it, the way the brain works. It’s not linear. It just festers away doing what it does, but you have to find ways to let the creativity come out into the bright light of day. For me, this is one of the most important reasons for belonging to a writing community, either online or face-to-face or both. It keeps me connected with my goal to be a published writer, to make a living from writing, but it’s also a safe and supportive place to take writing, do writing, ask questions, brainstorm and generally let your writing hair down with other people who are doing exactly the same. Instant writing is a great way to do that. Of course, you can do it all on your own, struggling away in your artistic garret, but why struggle alone when you don’t have to? It’s a tough enough road without making it even harder for yourself. So I highly recommend joining a group, that’s what I get from being part of MRWG, and what I think most others of us do too.
Sara runs Pursue True North, a free online community for ‘pre-published’ writers. If you’d like to be part of it please go to www.pursuetruenorth.com or to Facebook www.facebook.com/PursueTrueNorth or at Twitter @pursuetn.