What do writers need?

Within the last week, I’ve delivered some one-to-one coaching sessions with writers and aspiring writers at Menagerie’s new writing festival ‘Sparks’ in Cambridge and have co-hosted the full-to-capacity Writers’ Café at University Campus Suffolk as part of Ipswich’s annual Ip-art festival.  It’s set me thinking a lot this week about what writers need to help them develop.

In his excellent and characteristically down-to-earth memoir On Writing, Stephen King advises would-be writers that “You need the room, you need the door, and you need the determination to close the door”. 

Chris Gribble, CEO of Writers’ Centre Norwich, recently retweeted what is probably the most succinct and effective writing advice ever given:

  1. Read a lot.
  2. Write a lot.
  3. Repeat steps 1 & 2 as necessary.
  4. Get lucky.
  5. Stay lucky.

So what is it that writers, across all genres, need in order to progress their art, or craft?  Certainly, all of the above are useful pointers.  And there are all sorts of interconnected support structures, including:

Mentoring schemes (see, for example, Escalator Literature, an Arts Council scheme which supports writers in the east of England)

Joining a local writing group to get feedback on your work in progress and to counterbalance the isolation of writing by having some social time with other writers

Online writing courses –Newcastle’s Live Theatre has set up a pioneering online course, at http://www.beaplaywright.com , which is well worth a look

Find a writing buddy or writing partner – someone you can share ideas, agonies, rejection, elation with and with whom you can exchange critical feedback on your work in progress, or maybe even write in partnership.

Be inspired by undertaking a residential writing course in the particular genre you are writing or wanting to write in.  The Arvon Foundation is the UK’s most established provider of residential writing courses tutored by inspirational tutors, and all set in atmospheric, rural locations dotted around the country – from Devon to Invernesshire.  As someone who has benefited from two of these courses myself, I can’t praise them highly enough.

Get in touch with your regional literature development organisation – if you don’t know them already, just Google ‘literature development’ and the name of your region, or enquire through your regional Arts Council’s literature officer or equivalent and they will put you in touch.  In my own region, the Writers’ Centre Norwich offers an unparalleled service including continuing professional development workshops, short courses in fiction writing, a monthly literary salon, connections with the International Cities of Refuge Network, events such as the prestigious Worlds Festival, and lots more besides. 

Read an inspirational book – one I find myself constantly recommending to writers starting out is Dorothea Brande’s Becoming a Writer which was published in the first half of the 20th Century but the insights it contains into the psychology of writing and taking oneself seriously as a writer are as fresh and empowering as if written yesterday.

Book a coaching session.  I am a coach myself so I would say this, wouldn’t I, but I passionately believe in the power of coaching to support individuals in achieving their creative potential – by offering a safe, supportive and challenging space in which to explore their personal, professional and creative development.  Relational Dynamics 1st lists a number of arts coaches throughout theUK.

As well as coaching, there are a number of mentoring schemes and organisations available throughout the UK, from established consultancies like The Literary Consultancy and Jill Dawson’s highly respected mentoring service Gold Dust to new ones such as www.thewritingsmithy.co.uk, set up by poet Sarah Hymas and novelist Jenn Ashworth.  Information about both coaching and mentoring schemes are available through The Writer’s Compass (formerly literaturetraining.com) which is now part of NAWE:

Anyone serious about writing and literature development would be well advised to join the National Association of Literature Development (NALD) who bring together literature professionals from across the country, report on current developments in literature development and produce a quarterly newsletter which is highly informative about what is happening in the sector.  If your writing practice involves the education sector, then membership of (National Association for Writers in Education) NAWE is essential.

Join an online writing community.  Write Words is one I’ve known for a long time, and a new one I found about about last year is Quilliant.  If you are interested in writing for the stage, I strongly recommend you join the Bush Theatre’s online community Bushgreen  which brings together writers of all sorts of experience and style in a dynamic and accessible way, and the BBC’s Writersroom has a wealth of information (all free of charge) including interviews, downloadable scripts, writing tips and details of how to submit your work to the BBC.

I could go on (and apologies to those organisations I haven’t space to mention!)…

But have I addressed the question I posed at the beginning of this blog post:  What do writers need?  Perhaps not.  All of the ideas above, and more, can certainly be harnessed to help you as a developing writer.  But what’s the main thing a writer needs? 

Well, I think the most important thing is to build writing into the fabric of your life so that it becomes an essential part of who you are. 

And keep on with it – don’t lose heart.  As Stephen King so memorably puts it in his memoir: “Sometimes you have to go on when you don’t feel like it, and sometimes you’re doing good work when it feels like all you’re managing is to shovel shit from a sitting position”.

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One Response to What do writers need?

  1. You need good friends who work in your genre who are successful and ambitious to spur you on. Groups can be intimidating and discouraging (or great) while individual relationships with a few really smart people you like and trust is very helpful.

    I had to revise about 75% of my latest NF book (published in April 2011), and only one friend said the right thing, (which I quoted at the book party, in front of my editor) “You’re the mechanic. Fix the engine.” He had more confidence in my skills at that point than I did…you need that!

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