Friends with Benefits (of the literary kind only!)

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Max and Jess lapping up the spring sunshine

Yesterday I walked my two dogs in the fields behind my house on a beautiful sunny spring day. And I felt lucky. This isn’t going to be a ‘count my blessings’ cheesy post but I do try to appreciate simple pleasures and I don’t take anything for granted, especially having a loving family and great friends in my life.

 

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Having a support network is really important to me (I’ve certainly tested those close to me over the years!) and it means a lot when folk are genuinely interested in my writing journey. When I finished my MLitt in 2012, I was cut loose from the demands of the course and could easily have let my writing ambitions drift without assignment and dissertation deadlines. After being part of a tight-knit group for a year, it would also be easy to feel isolated and worry that I’d need to take the next steps on my writing journey on my tod.

That’s why I feel lucky when I meet up with friends from my uni class to go to literary events and to catch up for a good blether. Last week, the gathering was at my house (my hostess skills were challenged with hubby aka the Kitchen King absent). We’ve made an effort to stay in touch after graduation and this was a chance to share our news, talk about books, writers we admire, how our own writing was progressing (or not!) and put the world to rights including a lively discussion on the media coverage of the Referendum (I finally got round to reading And the Land Lay Still by James Robertson – a must read before the independence vote. It’s an epic tale of Scotland’s political history over the last 50 years and is very cleverly structured). Over a few glasses of fizz and between me stressing over the lasagne not cooking fast enough and forgetting to feed the stove, we also talked about senses and how smell is so important when remembering someone close to you – lentil soup and Imperial Leather soap reminded one of our group of his granny. These wee chats might seem insignificant but for me they stimulate all sorts of ideas for my writing.

download (2)But the benefit of our get-togethers is the feeling of being part of a supportive like-minded group of creative people.  This is an issue which was highlighted in the latest edition of Mslexia magazine. The article, ‘What Katie Did Next’ by Katie M Anderson acknowledged that after finishing a degree many students return to full-time jobs making it harder to maintain momentum. She suggests meeting fellow students, attending literary events, writing workshops, and submitting to competitions (smug tick in all the boxes for me!).

Seven months after finishing the first draft of my novel and STILL editing, I also related to “the problem of heightened expectation…an MA is not a ‘golden ticket’ – most of us don’t appear on the other side with a finished publishable work to show for it.”

download (3)The article was particularly relevant following the stushie in the media over Hanif Kureishi comments in The Telegraph that creative writing courses are a waste of time (the subject of a previous blog post). The Buddha of Suburbia author attacked expensive University courses and their ‘talentless’ students, despite the fact he teaches creative writing at Kingston University and claimed it would be “madness” to pay thousands to enrol in an MA.

In the Mslexia article, a small survey of graduates stated that after graduation, 55% finished the book they were writing, 30% were taken on by a literary agent and 27% were published.  So was it worth it for this group of graduates? Only the individual can decide what ‘success’ means to them. At the very least, whilst my novel is still a WIP and unpublished, I have been successful in gaining a group of friends I admire and respect, and that’s something I value highly and can’t put a price on.

Was your creative writing course worthwhile? Do you feel the need for support from a writing group? How do your family and friends support your writing ambitions?

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12 thoughts on “Friends with Benefits (of the literary kind only!)

  1. (I’ve reblogged this – whatever that means!) I’ve found a great network of historical fictionistas online to chat with. Not as good as face-to-face over a glass of wine but better than than feeling isolated.

  2. Hi Helen. I did my MA in Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia in 1996 and I was lucky enough to get funding and maintenance from AHRC. I probably wouldn’t have been able to attend if I hadn’t won funding. I’m still in touch with friends from my MA course and friends and lecturers from my undergraduate course in Chichester (CW was part of my degree in English). I’ve had some successes but I certainly couldn’t support myself and my family on the money I’ve made from writing – but I’m not one to associate success with money (fortunately!) It’s essential to know other writers, so what you say about being in a community of writers resonates with me and you absolutely get this from a writing course. Being with writers is like being with your own kind! I’m finding it very hard to write this year and I know that the reason is I’ve taken on a demanding “part-time” job. On the other hand, I’m doing something worthwhile (I work for a charity) and I’m saving a little bit of money which will, perhaps, buy me some writing time in the future. Yes, there is support on Twitter and through blogging although I sometimes think I should switch off my screens more frequently. I agree that stimulating company feeds our writing but you can’t get away from the fact that we also need solitude and TIME! I suppose I shall keep striving for some kind of balance. Great post.

    • Hi Josephine, We have very similar circumstances as I too couldn’t have financed my MLitt without my husband’s support. And like you, I’m trying to contribute to the family’s finances with part-time work. The good thing about meeting up with my uni pals was hearing that I’m not alone in trying to juggle, others are coping with a whole range of family and work commitments as well as health issues. It really is all about balance and all we can do is try our best to carve out time and keep our creative juices on the boil.

  3. I did my Creative Writing course with the open university, and only met my fellow students a couple of times, but those face to face workshops were a real boon. However, they all live some distance away, so since completion I’ve been pretty much on my own and have found it really difficult to maintain good writing practice. One of the disadvantages of home learning!!

    • Hi Kaye, Distance learning wasn’t something I considered when writing this post but your comment highlights the benefit of meeting other writers in real life.I think the support from a group is important and I know that with only virtual writing friends I’d not be as motivated. Where are you based? Is there a writing group in your local area that you could join? I tried one and found it a really valuable source of honest feedback (something which can be difficult within a friendship). All the best with your writing.

  4. This post made me think about my writing support. They reply got to be so long that I ended up posting it on my blog! http://lesleysscribblingsblog.blogspot.co.uk/
    In short:
    Yes, my creative writing course was worthwhile. Yes, I need the support of some kind of writing group. Yes, thankfully I get support from my family and friends.
    I am in the market for more online support though and am currently trying to build up my network of writing friends.

    • Hi Lesley, It’s great to hear that my post stimulated you to write a post for your own blog. I’ve read it and I’m impressed by the wide circle of support you have from family and friends and the groups you’ve been involved with over the years. As you say, some folk prefer solitude but like you, I too like the company of other writers to feed my ideas. Re Arvon, I’ve been on 2 courses and if you ever do get the chance to go on one I’d highly recommend the experience.

    • Hi Anita, I saw the pic of the view from your cottage on Twitter and it looked idyllic! And yes, there’s only so much writer chat that you can expect non-writer family and friends to listen to without losing the will to live. 🙂

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