I was talking to a friend earlier this week who used to come to our Writers’ Group until she became busy with other things and then sadly lost her husband. Since her loss, she has taken up painting and joined one or two groups in the town. I have been encouraging her to come back to Writing Group even if she doesn’t have anything to read and she is, as she said, ‘thinking about it’.
‘The trouble is,’ she said, ‘writing is a very solitary occupation.’ I had to agree and I can see the benefits of going to a meeting of artists who work away at their craft together. They may not say much but they are in company and I can understand that this is a comfort. particularly in the case of my writer friend.
But it did make me think about my focus on writing and whether this isolates us from others. Well, for about sixteen years I was a tutor to dyslexic students. Apart from arriving in the centre, passing people on the stairwell or making small talk at the photocopier, I was essentially alone with the student and, if the student did not appear, I caught up with the admin in my office. True there were meetings occasionally but sometimes on the way home it occurred to me that I had spoken to no more than three people. When I began to use the bus to work I found myself seeking out other passengers, some of whom I knew, to talk to.
How different my life is now that I write. As it is a sedentary activity I try to limit periods at the computer to one or two hours before donning my coat and taking long strides along our local beach or even further afield, where ideas begin to flow faster than ever. I do meet people to talk to and snippets of our conversations may end up in the next chapter or poem that I write on my return. I also am fortunate to still have my partner who, although he does not live with me, is always on hand a few doors away to walk with me, go out for lunch or simply stop off in a café. Since taking my writing more seriously I have attended courses and writers’ conferences, particularly The Winchester Writers Festival, where I have made friends and contacts with whom I communicate all year. This year I spent every weekend in June at writers’ events and was in seventh heaven, coming home, brimming with ideas, spurred on by advice and fired up with creativity. Our Writers’ Group meets three times a month and I make as many meetings as I can and try to have at least 1000 words written on a theme, usually tailored to something that I am working on. I meet some of these writers outside the group meetings and one member encouraged me to an ‘open mic’ night at a local pub where I read three of my poems with a lot of acting involved to cover up my shaking hands. The pub was crowded and I was certainly not alone!
As my ‘baby’, Grandma’s Poetry Book, is due out in November I have begun engaging with social media more over the last year and through this found a writer living in my town who I later met up with and sparked another friendship. I also meet my illustrator once or twice a month. At courses and conferences I collect email addresses, Facebook names and twitter accounts and my writer’s notebook is overflowing with cards, flyers and ‘to do’ notes. Even emailing is a form of social contact and when I do glue my bottom to my chair to persevere with my craft I am engaging with my characters or, in the case of my memoir, the child that I was some sixty years ago.
My novel, recently renamed, Sharing the Silence, about a hearing girl growing up with her deaf sister, has been on the boil for a few years. I have had to take a break from it a few times to push on with other projects such as my poetry book but I have visited deaf clubs, my sister’s old school and attended events related to the world of the Deaf.
I feel I am now reinventing myself as a writer and, at last, losing my teacher identity. I certainly do not feel I am isolated or as if I am participating in a solitary occupation. Each of us needs some solitude and writing is a great way to find it. Also it is a fabulous excuse for sticking yourself away for a while or hiding behind your laptop screen.
I now wonder how many would-be great writers are put off getting into this wonderful activity by the fear they will become isolated. It is all down to balance and scheduling activity.
I now find myself looking forward to doing book signings, visiting book shops and libraries and, who knows, I may even be bold enough to give a talk. Writing has opened up a whole new world for me.
Why not try it yourself?
Grandma’s Poetry Book, by Di Castle, illustrated by Denise Horn is published by Matador in November.