It’s early January and, although I didn’t plan this as a New Year’s Resolution, I finally got around to going along to the local writers’ group. I’d had a couple of responses to my initial email requesting further information and I had been assured that it was a ‘small, friendly group’. Still, I was a little apprehensive about what I would encounter and one of my worries was confirmed when I pushed through the door to see several ladies of advancing years sat around a table and looking up at me.
“You must be Nick,” said one. Bugger.
“Yes, hi, erm…”
And before I knew it I had a chair pulled up for me (somewhat self-consciously at the ‘head’ of the table – or foot I suppose; either way, I stuck out like the Batmobile amongst a car park of classic British saloons).
There was a flurry of introductions and then we got down to business. This meeting was a workshop, headed by Barbara (one of the members), where we would use some poetry to fire the creative process. I rather naively thought that this would involve somebody talking through some poems and their structure and symbolism and stuff, and then we’d discuss it and think about how we could make use of it. A bit like many dull workshops and seminars I’ve been to for work over the years.
But no. Printouts of a poem were handed around and it was read aloud. There was then a quick discussion about the content, possible questions that were being asked in the readers’ minds and then there came the words “Does everyone have some writing paper?”
I didn’t even have a bloody pen (despite my daughters asking if I had one before I left the house). I felt like the useless 12 year old lad of the class.
Anyway, paper was found and a pen provided. It still didn’t prepare me for the next bit. “I thought,” said Barbara, “that we could use the poem as an inspiration to write something, possibly from either the visitor’s point of view or from those listening inside. Let’s say twenty minutes?”
Holy shit. I’m expected to write something creative, beginning to end, right now. Using PEN and PAPER??!!? And I only have twenty minutes?
I glanced around and most of the others were already charging along. I picked up the pen and twiddled it about a bit, getting the feel of it and wondering whether I could wimp out with the excuse that doing our Christmas cards had used up all of my handwriting.
But an idea had been bubbling away, so I put pen to paper and went with it. The lack of any ability to edit in mid-sentence (as I’m doing now on my PC) was faintly horrific and recalled writing stories and essays at school, but I ploughed on. As time ran out, my handwriting became less and less legible, but I managed to bring it to a satisfying conclusion just in time. It was just like an exam. But unlike exams, we then had to read our compositions out to everyone else. Ouch. At least I didn’t have to read aloud an appalling history essay I once wrote when I had a rush of blood to the head and compared the Earl of Danby to a rabbit.
But everyone seemed to like my piece and once we’d gone around the table (there were a couple of surprisingly gruesome deaths served up by the sweet old ladies) it was time for tea.
We then did it all again with another poem but this time we only had fifteen minutes. Bloody hell. I knew I needed a kick up the arse and the imposition of deadlines that I couldn’t wriggle out of, but this was certainly in at the deep end.
There’s another informal meeting in a couple of weeks (apparently some actual men go to that one) where pieces are read out to each other. The topic is “The Reunion” with a word count of up to 1000 words. After having just minutes to knock something up, two weeks sounds like a piece of cake…