(This post was originally written in December 2017, when the wounds were still fresh. I forgot all about it until I re-discovered it last week. This post is for any of you who have been told, ‘you can’t’ write or be a writer. I am telling you, ‘yes you can!’)
I've come to realise that words can be like kind stitches that heal wounds. Poetry was the only thing that could meet my grief process full on in 2017, providing illumination and warmth where no other light could get in. These poems possess shamanic-like power, words that bridge earthly reality and the lost maps of a grieving soul, penned by warrior poets who had already walked their own wild paths and survived. 2017 was the same year that taught me some writers whether intentional or not seek to harm, gatekeeper and de-construct you, slowly pulling out the stitches.
Much pondering has been undertaken about whether to write this post or not. But it feels too important not to write. And I know I'm not alone out there.
In Autumn 2017, I attended a residential creative writing course with a well regarded writing charity. I'd always wanted to do one of their courses, I'd always heard good things about them and had very high hopes that this course would help me over the hump of being stuck in the middlings of the first draft of my first novel. It was expensive and although I'd not earned a penny since June, I didn't quite meet the criteria for a bursary but felt the hefty fee was worth the possibility of getting clarity and finishing the first draft of my novel. Something I wanted to achieve.
Whilst sitting with one of the tutors for the evening meal on the first night, a multi-award winning writer I admired, I asked them what their writing process was. They waved their arm in the air and said "I hate writing! I'm not going to be writing again until next June when I have time. Why does anyone want to write?" They went on to say that they were useless at everything else and writing was the only thing they could do well and we should abandon the desire to be writers. I was stunned. There wasn't an ounce of encouragement for us newbie novelists. This was the antithesis of the year of encouragement I'd had on my masters course from my personal tutor.
Still, I remained positive and excited about my one to one tutorial with them and submitted an excerpt from my novel for feedback. I was ready for the criticism and direction. Instead, I entered to find the tutor slumping on the chair, not even looking at me. They took my writing, folded it in half and said, "well there's a lot going on in that" and put it to one side. Though I probed for feedback, instead they clock-watched, were more interested in my fountain pen and gossiping about the other students.
That was the moment something inside me folded in on itself and hid. I crumpled. I felt like that 16 year old lass who was told by the careers officer – you cannot be a writer. You're not good enough.
I spent the rest of the week imploding in slow motion. Trauma re-triggered. Amygdala chaos. A havoc-wreaking week. Dream-bashing. Could I write? Was this worth the minutes/hours/weeks/months/years of my life? Is my writing crap? The tutor continued to baffle me, very little lesson planning, checking their mobile phone in lessons, clearly favouring well educated students, gossiping and disrespectful of well-known authors. Yet this tutor was intelligent, a superb writer, highly creative and had so much they could have taught us.
Surely it is a privilege to teach and inspire others?
Fast forward 3 weeks and I return to my writing roots at The Breathing Space Conference, a writing for wellbeing conference organised by Jill Teague at the International Academy of Poetry Therapy. Right away I’m at home with kind mavericks and word apothecaries snuggled in the mountains of Snowdonia. Fantastic writers who encourage others to write - in their own special ways. I pour my heart out to my MSC tutor and a former Creative Writing lecturer who had become disillusioned with academia and tell them all about the wounding week. They listen. They nod. They know. They offer words so kind and so wise that I felt the wound being stitched up by thread-bolts of en-lightenng. 6 writing workshops later, many words written, an awakened imagination, endless laughs, my first open mic, mutual love and encouragement, diverse voices, a phenomenal talk by Jay Griffiths and I'm back.
I am a writer. And I do it my own way. I don't need the validation of a publisher or a ranking. I write for me.
Reflecting on the residential creative writing course, I learnt that you can use your privilege to support others or to gatekeep and be-little others. If this is what a PHD from Oxford University, an MFA from UEA and a Booker short-lister makes you then STUFF IT. Fuck it. You can keep your privilege but don't use it to keep me down. You might try but I am a stealthy sister, I'll creep up behind you when you're least expecting it and say 'boo!’. I'll rabble rouse at ground level and help others rise way above me and soar. I'll use my privilege to privilege others who don't have it. I believe everyone has their own voice that deserves to be heard and validated.
The literary world can be gate-keeping and elitist. In the UK there is a real class issue and intra-class/cultural issue in terms of who gets published or not or who is allowed to succeed. It is not talent alone that gets you published. It's also education, money, privilege, contacts, timing and on and on. Yes, this is reality - a created and inherited reality. This means, as a 'general public' we don't get to hear the vast range of voices that inhabit Eng-er-land. Or we get to hear a privileged voice write about 'others' not so privileged. It is NOT GOOD ENOUGH. Yes, there are exceptions, some writers get through like inspirational Kit De Waal who published her first book at 55, My name is Leon. But with arts and creative education being demoted in schools and with the increasing gap between privilege, deprivation and lack of opportunity mainstream literature is even more homogenised than before.
I do have hope. Much is happening grassroots. The open mic movement, self-publishing, blogging, the words for wellbeing movement, the #workingclasswriters movement – encouraging others to break out their words and just do it. Because this is where it all starts. Down in the dirt, in real lives, hidden lives, home-stylie. Lived experience. Raw words that can rip your heart to shreds and put it back together again. Imperfections. And kindness. Kindness is cool. It rocks. It inspires. It heals. It encourages. It is not feeble or wishy-washy. It takes real strength to be kind to others.
If you’ve been shut down or silenced in your writing please do get in touch with me via twitter. Or join my free writing circle, open mic or slow reading circle.
Cut-up Art by Dal Kular
Breathing Spaces Conference was organised by International Academy of Poetry Therapy
Follow #workingclasswriters on twitter