I'm a little sad this week. I've been taking a course at the Herbert Art Gallery and Museum in Coventry. Called 'Creating the Creative Writer', it ran for four Saturdays and was led by writing tutors Cathy Whittaker and Connie Ramsay Bott. I got so much out of this stimulating and challenging course, which was taught in a very friendly and supportive group. Last Saturday was the final session. I'm really going to miss those creative days. So, this weekend I am just reflecting on what I learned, and how I can use it to carry my writing forwards.
Why do I write? This was one question I had to answer during the course. Strangely, for someone who writes almost every day, I often struggle to identify the reasons. Writing has become such a big part of my life now that I just tend to carry on, regardless of rejections, hard years, illness or despair! Having to write about why I write pushed me to the conclusion that I do it for two main reasons.
1. To escape the world.
2. To observe the world more closely.
That may sound like a contradiction, but it makes sense to me. Writing lets you hold things up and examine them; explore situations and see what you think or feel about them. Add in the power of the imagination and, well, you really can go anywhere.
Each of the four Saturdays had a different focus, beginning with memoir, moving through fiction, poetry, and developing our writing via constructive feedback. We did lots of writing exercises, many using the Herbert's collections as inspiration. For example, we would be asked to find a character in a painting to write about, or a picture that sparked a memory from our earlier lives.
We also used the Herbert's temporary exhibition 'Caught in the Crossfire' to prompt ideas about conflict - a necessary element in fiction. Conflict is something I find hard to judge, especially if I am trying to write a gentler magazine story. Too much conflict - or too little? I don't think there is an easy solution to this, except more practice!
As if the Herbert didn't have enough thought provoking material in its exhibition, evidence of past conflict is very evident outside too. The remains of Coventry's ancient cathedral are right next door.
One thing I noticed during the course was how my motivation soared. I was tired, recovering from a persistent cold, and at work more days than I wanted to be. Yet I could not stop writing. One day, on the train home from Coventry, I wrote a poem about the passengers. During my lunchbreak at work, I wrote another about the view from the window. Writing seems to fuel itself, and the more I do it, the more I want to do it. Some days I think I don't have enough time, but the time is there really, if I just make myself start. That is the difficult bit.
There will be a further course of four Saturdays, 'Creating the Story Writer', at the Herbert in the summer, again led by Cathy and Connie. For details see the Herbert's website here. I would definitely recommend it if you are within reach of Coventry city centre.
For more about Cathy Whittaker and Connie Ramsay Bott, their website is here.
In case you're wondering about Herbert, go here....
And this is Ecce Homo by Jacob Epstein, in the cathedral ruins, just because I like it.