What are the barriers to you improving as a writer? To really giving it a go? Time? Space? If you’re like me, you don’t have a study or a shed to which you can retreat and even if you’re lucky enough to have a suitable bolt-hole, you don’t feel you have the time to do justice to it, especially if you work or are a parent or a combination of the two. But the fact is improving your writing takes time and it takes space; it takes mental space, physical space, emotional space.
At the beginning of this year I decided to start taking my writing more seriously (I’ll tell you why another time, over a glass of wine) and took Dorethea Brande’s excellent advice* which basically boils down to ‘Write. Find some time and space and do it. And if you’re not doing it, find something else to do instead, you’re probably not a writer’ (harsh but fair?). Taking this advice meant getting up before the rest of the house or staying up in the evening so I could use the front room in peace, but I realised fairly quickly at some point I wanted to dedicate some extended time to developing my writing, so over the summer holidays I booked onto a Starting to Write course at Arvon’s Totleigh Barton centre in Devon.
Time and space are what Arvon deal in – a week’s worth of time and more spaces in which to write than you can shake a pen at – studies, sitting rooms, sheds, barns, benches, window seats, deckchairs. That besides the expertise of two live-in authors (mine the rather wonderful Nikita Lalwani and Sam North, two people I have good reason to thank) and the support of 15 others, who have all made the decision to make the time and space to improve their writing.
It’s easy to throw around superlatives and I am uncomfortable with the word transformational, but it fits my experience of the week from which I’ve just returned. During my week at Totleigh, I felt several layers of scales fall from my eyes during my week and with each hard won revelation I found my writing more fulfilling, more challenging, more enlivening.
I always thought to be a successful writer I would need a rather grand leather-topped desk a fancy lamp and an ink well. It turns what I really needed was a small table in my bedroom overlooking a farmer’s field and the time to get on with it, along with good advice from people who have been there before me and support from those who are on their own journeys. I’m still at the beginning of mine, but in the last week I’ve made more progress as a writer than in the last year as a whole and I’ve returned even more determined to improve and make space and time for writing.
Currently reading: Carol Shields – The Stone Diaries.
Currently listening to: Maria João Pires playing Chopin’s Nocturnes rather beautifully.
*From her 1934 book, Becoming a Writer
ps. While we’re talking barriers to writing, don’t let money get in the way of you considering taking a course with Arvon, there are grants available (I applied for a teacher’s grant, which helped me to be able to take the Starting to Write course).