“Pace yourself,” they said in the smoking tent. “Don’t feel you have to do everything.”
I’ve spent the past week at Swanwick Writing School, an annual event taking place in the tranquility of the Derbyshire countryside.
I didn’t pace myself. There’s a wall of exhaustion that kicks in somewhere around Tuesday evening. It hits everyone, apparently. The newcomers never expect it. I certainly hadn’t. It’s just writing, after all. How can that possibly be tiring?
The thing is that it isn’t just writing. Writing is the theme that holds the week together. From published novelists with several titles on the shelf to procrastinating bloggers who need a shot of self-belief, we are all in some way writers. Swanwick is a wonderful leveller. We sat beside each other in learning sessions, served each other at meal times and surprised each other with talents in poetry, music and humour.
There’s a great deal of humour. It’s a long time since I’ve sat with strangers and laughed as much.
I’ve learned much too. From how to identify a magazine’s typical reader and write with her in mind through to how to play a Monty Python song on the kazoo. I’ve also learned that being an introvert is OK, but that Swanwick gently tickles the edges of that until it frays a little. Even I felt personable by the end of the week.
The writing school’s now in its 68th year and is awash with tradition. The week, and each day within it, is organised in a particular way. I’d expect that most things with that sort of history have a bit of dustiness to them. Not so with Swanwick; there’s a thirst for feedback and suggestions, although I couldn’t think of anything with room for improvement. The welcome for first-timers is second-to-none, and there’s a special system encouraging young writers to join in.
Amongst all of that – they call it the Swanwick Magic, and that’s no exaggeration – I attended sessions on character development, grammar, editing, plotting, structure and memoir. One day was set aside for not procrastinating, and I wrote more that day than I’ve ever written in one stretch.
We looked at music and lyrics on Thursday morning; one of the last two sessions I went to. One of the songs we explored was Hotel California. I liked the end particularly; You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave. Apt, I thought. I feel I’ve found a real hidden gem. I’ll be back.