THE VALUE OF A SUPPORTIVE COMMUNITY of WRITERS
The Value of a Supportive Community of Writers
by Dr. Gulara Vincent
The value of a supportive group of writers cannot be overestimated. I remember my first writing retreat vividly. In April 2012, I slumped in a comfortable armchair in a cozy room in Poulstone Court, a retreat centre in the beautiful Herefordshire countryside in England. There were another eight people on the same retreat. I’d been in this old house with tall ceilings and huge windows several times before, usually to do my tai-chi retreats, but never to write.
Every morning I spent several hours pouring out my heart on the screen of my laptop. After lunch, our course leader, Dr Barbara Turner-Vesselago, read our pieces out loud. I gazed at the green fields, stretching as far as I could see, while shaking internally at the prospect of getting feedback from the group. Each piece was read anonymously in no particular order. Every time Barbara finished reading a piece and we critiqued it, I held my breath. Would mine be next? Relief mixed with disappointment followed if she read someone else’s work. When she read mine, I sat still, verging on rigid. I did not have eye contact with any other participants, in case they noticed the tears in my eyes. I bit my lip to avoid crying or letting any emotion out. My body shook uncontrollably.
The truth is that to hear back my own words was incredibly powerful. To be witnessed by a group of people was even more potent. Hearing people say what they thought about the piece and what touched them gave me confidence and reassurance that perhaps I could write.
I have come a long way from my first retreat. I have written many thousands of words since then, but I still remember the vortex created by like-minded people getting together with the sole intention to write. I still feel a little nervous about hearing my written words read out loud, but I have a deeper appreciation for voicing them, because I get a step closer to putting my work out into the world.
When we share our work with a supportive community, shifts happen.
In 2014, I was selected by Writing West Midlands, a literary agency in the UK, as one of 15 emerging writers they support for a year. Although exchanging feedback on writing and attending workshops and events has been useful, being a part of a thriving writers’ community has been the biggest gift of this programme. My confidence has grown tremendously and I can proudly say today ‘I am a writer’, which I didn’t dare to do a year ago.
Whilst being surrounded by other writers is valuable, I knew I needed to connect with other memoir writers. I remember when I was doing a PhD in law (2006-10), there were very few people specialising in my area of expertise (minority rights law). Although it gave me an opportunity to be unique, I really missed not having people ‘speaking the same language as me’. Eventually, I found a lecturer in Liverpool who had the same area of specialism. Every time I attended seminars he organised, I felt inspired and excited.
I have recently become an active member of a memoir community through Viga Boland’s Memoirabilia. Connecting with other memoir writers on Memoirabilia’s Facebook page is deepening my own journey. And reading Memoirabilia magazine is like attending one of those events during my PhD writing years. They breathe life and confidence into my writing. Oh and seeing my name in the magazine… Well, for that I am deeply grateful to Viga Boland for all her enthusiasm and dedication in supporting a rapidly growing community of memoirists.
Dr Gulara Vincent is a writer, blogger and a university law lecturer. She lives in Birmingham, England, with her husband and two young children. You can visit her writer’s blog at http://gularavincent.com/blog