The magic of writing together

This weekend Zoe Gilbert and I, of London Lit Lab, taught our WRITE & EDIT A STORY IN A WEEKEND course for the second time this year, but introducing more discussion on writing personal essays. It is an intensive writing and editing course over two days. Students usually come with an idea, and spend most of the first day writing in the peaceful hum of the stylish Clapton Laundry. They sit around the antique table, or spread out on vintage sofas while the autumn sun shines through the skylights and gently warms. The resident tabby jumps onto the table mid-teaching and stretches out on our papers, or snoozes on a sheepskin.

This year our students were ready and eager to write. They came with ideas and the writing happened effortlessly. They found their spot, and put pen to paper or fingertips to keyboard, and abandoned themselves to that otherworld. Some were surprised when they didn’t write what they’d intended, responding instead to a long-lost memory that resurfaced in the synergy of the shared space, bringing feelings with it.

Coffee bubbled away in the kitchen, and the kettle was always warm. There were biscuits. We stopped for lunch and there was much enthused chat about the morning’s activity, over cauliflower soup and sourdough. After food and much coffee, we continued writing.

While Saturday is facilitated writing, Sunday is teaching. Zoe and I had written first drafts of stories and we shared them with the group to read and critique, applying editing techniques as they learned them. It’s always quietly nerve-wracking to have your students tell you how you might make your writing better.

What struck us most about the day was how positively everyone responded to having the privilege to write, uninterrupted for this period, all together in this wonderfully creative space. They were all there for the same reason – because they wanted to give space to this thing that followed them around and pestered them daily, that demanded they give it their attention, and because they all understood the preciousness of what they had, there in their hands. They joined forces, and spurred each other on, just by sitting side by side and doing what felt most natural.

We all have those things that gobble up our time and headspace: the demands of a family, or job, or anxiety or confidence issues. There are so many reasons why we won’t do this thing that matters so much to us, and perhaps beneath it all we feel we don’t deserve to. Who am I to prioritise something that is so precarious? How can I consider leaving my job, or justify paying for childcare when there is no guarantee that this thing that I feel so compelled to do is even remotely practical? To many, it is just a dream. But we must also take responsibility for not letting that dream become real. Part of the problem is that we simply don’t recognise its value. That whatever the outcome, we fill feel better having dedicated that day, afternoon, hour even, to it. Our hearts and heads will be slightly lighter.

As we finished up for the day, one of the students commented that if she wrote like this every day, she might even write a book. It was a revelation. Perhaps she had discovered something. That focus and hours committed allow you go deep into an idea. That doing this alongside other likeminded people gives you the encouragement to continue. That when you look back at those words – however many there might be – you will feel warm inside. That writing is ace. It is.

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