Earlier this year I set up a little creative writing group. Look at me, writing that all breezy like, like it wasn't a huge big deal for me.
It was a HUGE BIG DEAL. I have wanted to set up some form of group for about two years. Ever since we moved into this house. It's not my house, it belongs to my brother, sister-in-law, niece and nephew. When they moved to Singapore they asked if we'd like to rent the house for a pretty preferential rate. It felt like such an act of generosity and I have always wanted to extend that by welcoming people into the house for some kind of mutual purpose, and allowing them to feel that generosity for themselves.
For a while I wanted to set up a group for mums, a safe space for them to talk and share, but that didn't feel quite right. Next I thought about a women's circle or red-tent style meetup but again, something felt missing. So I thought, what do I want from a group?
I wanted to meet people with whom I had a shared interest outside motherhood and make friends for reasons greater than 'our children attend the same group'. I have made some wonderful friends through my children, and that common interest has been just a starting point for a great deal more in many cases. However since leaving the workforce I haven't spent much time with writers, at least not in 'real life' - I'm fortunate to have spent plenty of time with them online and very enriching it is too, but why do they all seem to live in Bristol?!
Without the impetus of client work and deadlines my writing has slipped way down the agenda. When there is no immediate financial incentive it's so easy to put everything above writing. The children, the house, the laundry, the garden, the allotment, yoga, running, photography - which is by far my most prolific creative outlet these days. Weeks could pass without me penning anything more than a journal entry or even looking in the direction of my computer. I'm not complaining about that - I am beyond grateful I'm not chained to my email! - but without the immediate motivation of pay, it's been far too easy to sideline writing.
Then I read Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert and she talks about the support of fellow writers, the members of her writing circle who have been with her since the very beginning, sharing work, blocks, the highs and the lows. I want that. I want a group of women - because I do so love the company of women - with whom I can share the joys, the frustrations, the laughter and the tears that are all part and parcel of being a writer, or any form of creative.
And so after a suitable amount of fear-based procrastination I set myself a deadline. My group would meet on Tuesday, April 26. I promised myself even if nobody attended, I would sit down by myself at the allotted time and devote myself to writing.
I put a notice on a local Facebook group, posted a few follow-ups, and crossed my fingers. The first meeting was TERRIFYING for me, I was convinced nobody would come, shit-scared that they actually WOULD come, had no idea what had possessed me to think I could run a creative group and to cap it all I'd had a (thankfully rare these days) bad night with Violet and was tired, grumpy and just wanted to go to bed and hide. And then at half past eight there was a knock on the door and I was so overwhelmingly grateful that people had come - that these brand-new exciting wonderful glamorous women had taken the time out of their day to come and support somebody they had never even met, through nothing other than a mutual interest. They were wonderful and it was wonderful and I was buzzing for days afterwards.
The group has been running for a month now and I could not be happier with what we have created. It's small - we have less than ten members and not all of these have actually managed to attend! We are all busy, we all have lives, as it turns out we all have children - and I am of course not the only one guilty of putting my creative writing way, way at the bottom of my list of priorities.
It's my firm belief though that a group is greater than the sum of its parts. Regardless of who gathers around my kitchen table at 8.30pm on a Tuesday night, the women who have shared their stories and parts of their selves with me and others are held in mind. If you believe, as I do, that there is some element of creativity that involves plugging into a force or energy greater than oneself, then just setting aside the time to honour the creative process is a way of tapping into the source.
I have already been so inspired by the women who have taken the time to come to my group. Some have shared deeply personal stories, others new perspectives, and already original and sometimes highly moving work has been produced and shared. Most of all they have brought an attitude of openness - open in both minds and hearts - to creating something together.
Last week I set a fun exercise involving random words cut out of a magazine (The Simple Things, so it was all quite rustic and wholesome!). We were each given five unrelated words and challenged to write five paragraphs and include one of the words in each para. The brief was deliberately loose - the paragraphs could be related or separate, prose or poetry, fictional or personal account....whatever came to mind. We had just 15 minutes to complete the exercise and read back.
I wanted to share what I wrote below. This is the first piece of fictional writing I have ever shared outside my immediate family and friends and it's hastily composed. Nonetheless I'm proud of it, because like my group, it represents something greater than the sum of its parts. Just five words prompted an entire story - if that's not magic I don't know what is.
(Note; The words I was allocated were STYLE, LIGHTBULB, GLAMPING, INTERNET and BIRTH. I arranged then rearranged them into an order I felt happy with, then wrote longhand. This was written in 15 minutes and my first thought was irritation that the word 'birth' was included, because I absolutely didn't want to write about motherhood, and to ensure I didn't, I chose to write from the perspective of a male.)
The LIGHTBULB moment came to him at possibly the most inconvenient time in the history of the world. 'We're going to have to take her down to theatre,' the white-coated consultant said briskly. He nodded, not really understanding, just grateful that somebody who clearly knew a lot more than him was in charge. At last.
Vera hadn't been expecting an easy BIRTH. None of her friends with babies had managed one of those idyllic, unassisted, orgasmic labour experiences their NCT teacher had promised. When the consultant decided on a section he wasn't surprised, and he could tell by the relief in his wife's eyes, mingling with the exhaustion and terror, that she wasn't either.
And that was when it came to him. Somewhere between the urgent mutterings of midwives and doctors, the stunningly self-assured consultant, and the general medical kerfuffle. Noise, buzz, hubbub all around and the idea came to him, crystallised and fully-formed, as if he'd just entered a search term and opened up the power of the entire INTERNET.
He decided against telling Vera then and there. It wasn't his STYLE to steal her thunder. Cradling the purple, wrinkled, wizened head of his first son in her arms, she was hardly in a receptive state either. But as he watched her wincing as she struggled to tenderly bring the baby's head to her breast, her entire face softened and transformed by love - and a healthy dose of the drugs the NCT teacher had warned so vehemently against - he felt a tightening in his chest and a heat in his veins that had nothing to do with the sudden and completely irreversible reality of fatherhood.
'You're leaving work? Now?' Vera's face was incredulous and her grip on the white-clad bundle at her breast tightened involuntarily. 'You don't need to hang onto him like that,' he said, affronted. 'I'm not suggesting we sell him into slavery to fund our GLAMPING trips.' 'You might as well be!' she spat with the velocity of a hormonally postpartum woman whose husband had just announced that he was surrendering his breadwinning responsibilities in favour of. as he had put it, 'the next big thing in tech'. Which, as a matter of fact, she was.