Group Writing Therapy

by Trish Oglesby

Everyone who writes has a preferred time and place for doing so. Some of us are sparrows writing in bed with pillows fluffed up behind our backs; others are nightjars writing at tables supporting the coffee industry as much as the publishing one.

Routine is good but so is variety. I have written perched on a hard concrete block waiting for my car to be washed, trapped in an airline seat rubbing elbows with a stranger, belly down on a picnic blanket brushing ants off the page, lounged in a deckchair digging toes in the sand and, believe it or not, while driving a car – I do not, however, recommend the latter if you want to live long enough to spend your royalty cheque.

It’s not just the venue that writers change but utensils too. Somewhere along the time line, between when my grandfather taught me to write cursive by measuring the height of my letters with a calliper and the invention of the silicon chip, I traded paper and pen for screen and keyboard. It turned out I traded something else; the ink stained callus on the inside of my fourth finger for painful wrists and a crick in my neck which brought new meaning to the term, ‘suffering artist’.

I changed my muse too. She used to be a whimsical pixie who wrote only when inspiration and motivation came for tea but now she is a governess, preaching discipline. I invented her when I came to the realisation that, if I was to finish my novel while there were still teeth in my mouth, someone had to train my subconscious to resist procrastination. It is working; the silver no longer shines but my word count is higher.

I spend hours listening to my thoughts reverberate off stone walls or reading snippets of prose to my cat who dozes on the windowsill. The only inflexible aspect of penmanship is solitude, or so I thought until three of the four scribbling scribes travelled north to visit me for a weekend of writing.

Wrapped in winter coats and scarves, they crossed the threshold of my farmhouse and, like Victorian maids opening windows and sweeping dust cloths off furniture, aired my stuffy rooms with laughter, decorated my veranda table with laptops and memory sticks and stock piled my kitchen with biscuits, chocolates and wine.

Gaiety, confectionery and alcohol could have brought the writing weekend to its knees and, in such company, I would not have minded but writers we are and write we did.

This was not a weekend of grammar flexing, erudite push ups or running on literary treadmills. We did not read our prose out loud so others could chew and digest it. Instead we sat at a table staring at a rural sky, under which cattle grazed in rhythm to a murmuring wind, while our thoughts meandered through fields of words, gathering sentences and bundling them up into stories.

There are rules to writing in a group; no slurping from straws, no drumming fingertips on tabletops and definitely no tossing peanuts at other writers while they type. There are lessons too; one of which is writing need not be the solitary journey I once thought it was. Others chase metaphors, dream the published novel dream and jump up and down on the trampoline of euphoria and frustration, just like I do. If I am mad, then they are too.

We ended the weekend with a stack of typed pages and a gigantic sense of accomplishment. I wrote more than usual and continued to do so long after the scribbling scribes returned to Durban.

Writing, for me, is lonely again but I have my memories from the weekend with which to fuel my inspiration and if that should fail … I have wine.

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