The Advantages Of Joining A Writing Group

It is widely known that writing is a solitary pursuit and it can be lonely spending hours jotting ideas in notepads or typing away at the keys on a laptop. Sometimes writer’s block can strike or working on a larger project such as a novel or script can result in ideas becoming stale. It is at times like these when writing groups are invaluable.

Discussing and sharing ideas can kickstart the creativity flowing again. Constructive criticism is crucial because it is often the case that you become too close to what you are writing so that you fail to see the holes in the plot or a confused point of view.

Praise is equally important. It keeps you going when there seems to be no end in sight and builds confidence that you might actually be doing something right.

I attend two groups and over the years, I have accumulated hundreds of ideas for stories that come alive on the page but then disappear again between the covers of my battered notebooks, obscured underneath crossings out and scrawls in the margin where I’ve edited and rewritten.

I prefer handwriting this sort of work. It seems such a waste for these ideas to gather dust on the shelf, never looked at again because they served their purpose for the two hours when they had their moment in the light. Then they vanished with the promise that one day, they might be brought back out and worked into something far more sophisticated and inspired. These notebooks are my personal archive and a record of my writing journey.

My style has developed and improved. Some ideas worked and some didn’t but this is the process of becoming a writer. I am at the stage where I have decided to attempt to take my writing from a pastime to a profession and this involves the daunting prospect of putting my work out there.

The group I have most recently joined has a theme every month. Everyone brings along something they have written to read to the group in no longer than five minutes. I find this quite challenging because generally, I write with a cast of thousands who find themselves entangled in big, dramatic plots. Writing with a strict time limit or word count is a skill where you need to make every word count, every piece of dialogue should have meaning and every character must have a role to play in moving the story forward with the appropriate pace.

So, for the purpose of sharing my work, I am going to include some of my short stories in this blog so that they can be set free from the confines of the pages for longer than the two hours they are usually allowed.

I will begin with the most recent theme – ‘What Happened In The Garden’ (a short story that can be read in less than five minutes):

‘Sssh. Be quiet a minute. Look.’ Linda paused with the mug still covered in soap suds and pointed.

‘What is it, Mum?’ Steph joined her at the window.

‘There…look.’

There was a slight movement in the entrance to the Royal Mail replica post box.

‘Oh, I can see it.’

‘It must be one of the little ones. I knew they were in there but it’s the first time I’ve seen any pop their head out.’ She put the mug down into the bowl and reached for her glasses.

‘What is it?’

‘It’s a bird, Steph.’

‘Well obviously I know that! What type of bird?’

‘Your father thinks they are sparrows. He’ll be disappointed to miss this.’

They both watched from behind the window pane, not sure why they were holding their breath but too afraid to utter a sound. The sparrow was now out and tentatively balanced. It seemed to be making a decision.

Steph whispered.

‘Do you think it’s going to try and fly?’

‘Looks like it. Oh, poor little thing. Imagine how scary that must be.’

It was positioning itself ready for take-off.

‘Oh, oh…it’s going!’

‘It’s like watching ‘Springwatch’ live.’

‘Don’t talk. You don’t want to scare it.’

‘The window’s closed, Mum.’

‘Doesn’t matter. Any little sound might put it off.’

Steph laughed.

‘It’s not sitting an exam.’

‘Oh, it’s changed its mind. It’s going back in. Probably wasn’t quite ready.’

‘Never mind. You can keep an eye out for it again. Anyway, I’m off to pick James up from school.’ Steph took her coat off the chair.

Linda went back to the washing up.

‘OK love. I’ll see you at the weekend. I’ll pick the birthday cake up and bring it over for James’ party.’

‘Great. I’ll see you then.’ Steph kissed her mother on the cheek.

‘Oh…’

‘What is it now?’

‘It’s alright. Something caught my eye again but it’s just next door’s cat jumping up on the fence.’

‘The sparrow could probably sense it and that’s why it disappeared. Bye Mum.’

‘Bye love.’

Linda finished with the dishes and picked up the tea towel. She was listening to the news on the radio when she caught sight of a movement from the bird box again. She leaned closer to the window.

‘Oh no!’

Next door’s tabby must have seen it too because it was making its way stealthily in the same direction. Suddenly the small, suburban garden had become a scene of life and death. Linda could see the cat was almost licking its lips as its full concentration was on the unfolding spectacle above. She watched, barely able to breathe as the sparrow was about to make its leap of faith. It was going…

‘No! Don’t do it little bird!’ She shouted at the closed window. She had to do something. The cat was on high alert, poised to jump up; the sparrow was poised to jump out; and Linda was just poised to witness the unfolding catastrophe before her eyes. She rushed to the back door and ran out clapping her hands.

‘Shoo, shoo!’

But the cat was having none of it. It was dinnertime!

Just as Linda was reaching down to pick the cat up, the fledgling sparrow launched into the void. It flapped its wings frantically and almost crashed on the lawn but it corrected itself just in time and flew off, disorientated, over the fence.

The cat was now writhing in protest at the unwelcome hunting intrusion and made its feelings quite clear with a hiss.

Linda immediately put it down and it bolted across the garden and over the fence. She could only hope the sparrow had made it to safety but there was no more she could do. She stood looking at the nest box wondering if there were more in there waiting to begin life’s journey of survival. She sighed as she blew her fringe out of her eyes and laughed at her garden heroics. Then, to nobody but herself, she smiled and uttered, ‘Well, that was a drama!’