I love attending writing workshops, both to stretch myself, and to meet other like-minded people. And, yes, tea and cake are never a bad thing either! I don’t get along as much as I’d like to, but when I can, I am part of Victoria Watson’s writing group at Quilliam Brothers in Newcastle, and Victoria kindly joins me today to talk writing…
So, what inspired you to set up your first creative writing group?
What a great question!
I did a Masters in Creative Writing between 2008 and 2010 and I met some really talented writers (who also happened to be awesome people) and I know how valuable it was to spend time with other writers and to have deadlines as well as the opportunity to get constructive feedback.
I wanted to set something up that provided these things for people. I knew that I wanted my sessions to be open to everyone, regardless of ability, experience or what they wrote and I think that has been one of the biggest draws for people. Since setting up my writing groups, I’ve been very lucky to work with people who are supportive and nurturing as well as being talented.
What do you like best about organising writing workshops?
I love so many things about the writing workshops.
It’s incredible to see the diverse work that is produced from giving a group one prompt or one exercise. Another really proud achievement of mine was helping members of the group get an anthology published featuring their work.
I get the most long-term joy, though, from seeing people grow the more they attend the sessions – whether it’s trying something new, developing their writing style or becoming more confident in sharing their work. There are some people who started coming to the groups who wouldn’t read aloud at all and now they’re giving regular public readings!
Is there anything you don’t enjoy about it?
I wish I could do it full-time. I think I could do a lot more if I didn’t have to also work for a living! Another thing I hate to see is when people don’t have more confidence in their work but thankfully that’s where I and other members of the groups can help.
Where do you get your ideas for creative writing exercises?
Everywhere! I have some excellent books that give me great ideas. Sometimes I read a news story or see a picture and think it might be a good starting point. I’ve been told about interesting exercises like guided writing by other facilitators like the wonderful Barbara Henderson. I like to try and do different things as much as possible – it keeps writers on their toes!
Do you use the prompts yourself in your groups, or do you find combining the two difficult?
I do sometimes try to use a prompt but it depends on what else I have to do. Sometimes, in the groups, someone might ask me to have a look at something for them or I may have other work to do on my business, Elementary V Watson. Sometimes during sessions, while others are writing, I do one to one chats with people if they need support in a particular area or want to pick my brains about something.
Do you enjoy attending workshops as a participant?
I do enjoy workshops although I haven’t been to many since completing my Masters. I love it when I get there, as it gives me a chance to be creative too. The last workshop I went to was in London in June 2014 and I was really fired up after it. I had written poetry which I’m not massively confident writing so that was a great boost. It made me remember why I love writing. Maybe I should attend more…!
Definitely! You can never attend too many… What’s the best workshop / type of workshop you’ve attended?
I think they all have their benefits. It depends on what you’re hoping for when you get there. I like a workshop that pushes me to do something different and to write outside my comfort zone. To be honest, though, it’s just such a thrill to go somewhere and write.
As well as running her writing groups and workshops, Victoria is also a proofreader, and was one of the people who helped me out with Kindred Spirits before I even thought about submitting it anywhere. So how did Victoria get started in it?
I’ve always picked up errors when reading books, articles and websites. In 2011, I fell rather ill with an autoimmune disease and I was worried about my job security. I wanted to do something that I could at home and I realised proofreading could be a good plan. I wasn’t sure how difficult it would be, though, so I sounded out a friend and she was so supportive that I just went for it! There are a few people in my life who I consider my ‘champions’ who have faith in me when I don’t have it in myself and I would never have had the confidence to set up Elementary V Watson without the support of my champions.
Has proofreading other peoples’ work ever helped you notice a bad habit in your own work?
Not really although I accept that, even as a proofreader, it is difficult to spot errors when reading your own work. You tend to read it as you meant it, rather than what it actually says. So if you’ve put ‘a’ instead of ‘as’, spellcheck won’t pick it up and you, as the writer, probably won’t either. I think sometimes people can be critical and expect proofreaders to be 100% correct all of the time but we’re human!
Have your proofreading skills ever stopped you enjoying a published novel (naming no names, to protect the guilty?)
Yes, absolutely. In this day and age of self-publishing, it appears some people write something and stick it on Amazon – or other self-publishing sites – without even rereading it, never mind asking a professional to look it over. Proofreading can seem expensive but the damage done to your reputation without it could cost you a lot more.
Thanks for joining me today, Victoria.
As well as helping others, Victoria has also released a number of her own pieces, including The Piano, Dangerous Driving and Letting Go. She has also compiled an anthology including works from members of her writing groups, Thrills ‘n’ Chills.