What I’ve learned from my wonderful writing students …

Teaching is terrific, but learning is better. I’m totally thrilled that my super students have taught me so many things, for learning is what I love; it is a two-way process.  Sitting here, as my naked hand wipes away some cobwebs, I hammer out some words of wisdom instead of getting a duster. It’s called being a writer!

Writing is natural. Writing is good for us. We love the grapple, the wordsmithery, the playing with a plot, creating characters, researching reams of information. Writing is getting something down, not thinking something up. That’s not an original thought, by the way, but writing rarely is. The joy is in the doing!

Writing is lonely. Attending a writing group is good, but tough. It requires guts, balls, brain, and any other visceral organ we normally keep hidden from view. To write to order, to share those thoughts with your peers is dauntingly difficult until you actually feel ‘good enough’ if you ever do. It’s much easier to do it once someone ‘in the know’ says your work is worth reading! That’s where teachers come in handy!

Writing is compulsive. It’s been said so often it is a truism: most successful writers read a lot and write a lot. By a lot, I mean at least daily. Readers become critical of others’ poor writing. Suddenly that beachside trashy novel or unedited self-published ebook becomes highly disposable.

Writing can be a letter, a diary entry, a story, a response to a prompt, work on a novel, whatever. For people who write, picking up a pen or tapping a keyboard is like breathing, second-nature, impulsive, compulsive. When you feel bereft if you don’t do it, then you know you must. Writing is not a choice, rather it keeps you sane. Sod the cobwebs! 

Writing is shocking. Yes, you are invariably shocked if someone praises your work, or finds it moving, if it is published, or generally received in any positive way. To a writer, your work can always be improved; it is never good enough. Yet, we severe self-critics freely and generously applaud and praise the work of others. Conversely, those who shout too loudly about their own wondrous writing are generally self-promoting because no one else will. 

Writing is obsessive. Inspiration comes from many things, and sometimes we just run with an idea in a stream of consciousness way, to see where it leads us. I have, in my lifetime, written many articles and books ‘to order’. This is writing for the market, filling a gap, flogging stuff, making money. Nothing wrong with it, but it doesn’t gobble up our hearts and souls. Usually, such writing is formulaic. The writing that captures us is when you have that moment where you simply have to know more or when a story needs telling and only you can do it!

Writing is lonely. No one can do it for you and you need time, peace, quiet and the desire. If other things get in the way too often, then your writing is not important enough to work for you at this time. Writing or a party? No contest! Writers are naturally introverts who hide away in their own cloistered world when writing. It is isolated and isolating, but it’s a splendid isolation we writers love.

Writing is fun. If you are a writer, you derive immense satisfaction and fun from the process. People may find you bizarre, desiring to closet yourself with a notebook or laptop. Tough. It’s what we do. Even when it doesn’t go right. It is, to use modern parlance, very mindful. When you’re writing, nothing else matters. It’s the thinking, the flow, the words … you know!

It has to be said that some of my writers write certain styles better than I do; they are awesome. I would have it no other way. I can only offer ideas and hope I learn more. You see, there is one final item:

Writing is a vulnerability. Anything you write puts your head above the parapet, leaves you open to criticism. Writing is working, reworking, editing, changing, rewriting, revamping, deleting. If your first draft is brilliant, then you’re a genius. I’ve never yet met one.

Anyone who can’t take criticism and is not prepared to learn from others … well, writing is, very simply, not for you! 

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