How much help do we get from other writers? And from writing retreats? I’ve just been to a writing weekend organised by the Association of Christian Writers, at Scargill House in the Yorkshire Dales. Friendly, welcoming, a beautiful location, I recommend it. We had meals, we laughed, we wrote things together, we made new friends.
One of the leaders, Nick Page, gave us a couple of exercises to do. He was talking about the qualities needed to be a writer: imagination, courage, honesty and so on, but said that one of the most important was one of the rarest – attention. To attend to the world, to others, to the tiniest detail, to the overheard conversation, to the expression on someone’s face. The greatest compliment you can pay someone – or something – is to pay attention to them.
This is the first exercise. Do try it.
Go into the garden, or round the house, collect a few bits and pieces: leaves, snail shells, pebbles, paperweights, jam jars, ornaments, spoons, radishes, coins: big things, small things, complicated or simple.
Then choose one item, grab a pencil and a piece of paper and spend ten minutes really looking at the item and drawing it – in all its detail and individuality. Don’t show the drawing to anyone (unless you want to!) The idea is to pay attention to something and to really, clearly see what it is like, not to create a ‘good’ drawing. If you are in a group, you could discuss what you found out, how you felt, what the object was like.
This is the second exercise.
Firstly, give yourself a suitable name, something vaguely epic, e.g. Gerald the Durable, Felicity the Persistent, Jonathon the Crumpled. You have ten minutes (or more if you require) to go on a journey: to get up, walk somewhere, even if just to the next room, and notice something or find something out. Then spend ten to fifteen minutes writing your epic journey: where you went, what you discovered. And, if you want, discuss what you wrote.
These would work well in a group with other writers, but you’d need space. I hope you try them and enjoy them.
The other things that Scargill gave me: encouraging talks from Adrian and Bridget Plass, a small pile of new Christian fiction to read, a few ideas to improve the novel, the memory of swifts screaming round the house at sunset, quiet times in beautiful scenery, fascinating discussions with other writers, and community. There are some lovely people in the world.
This is a picture of the chapel at Scargill:-