Paying it Forward

Since I began writing fiction in 2014, I have received help, encouragement, advice and friendship from so many other writers, all over the world. This writing community is a very special place, and I’ll never be able to pay back all the folks who have given freely of their time and expertise to help this bouncy, over-enthusiastic new writer with more energy than skill. But I can try to pay the favour forward, and that’s what I try to do these days.

Earlier this year, I was lucky enough to be awarded a grant from the Arts Council of Northern Ireland for delivering a free online writing course. I hoped to target marginalised people, those with disabilities, chronic illnesses, carers and anyone who was struggling to attend formal classes, and I was overwhelmed by the response from the community of Northern Ireland.

I ended up running three separate groups to meet the demand, and together we learned how to create engaging short stories, how to edit them, and how to get them published. The vast majority of attendees were from my target groups, which was wonderful. Instead of an effort, I found each session strengthened me, almost recharging my batteries, as I watched people’s confidence grow.

At the end of the course, I sent out an anonymous questionnaire and the feedback was reassuring. People had enjoyed the course and learned from it. The only suggestion for improvement that came up (more than once) was that the course should have been longer. Not a bad criticism!

So, I felt guilty that I hadn’t made it longer, although my own health and my own caring duties meant that I’d made it as long as I’d thought my stamina could cope with. Then I wondered what else I could do to help this fledgling writing community. To pay it forward.

The answer came from one of the subgroups of the Society of Authors of which I’m a member. A lovely woman called Sofia posted a link to the London Writers’ Salon (LWS), a group of writers who meet three times a day Monday to Friday on Zoom, and just write together whilst muted (after a short introduction and some words of wisdom). I signed up, and after the first session, I was hooked! This was something I could bring to local writers in Northern Ireland.

A couple of weeks ago, I set up Ulster Dedicated Writers, a smaller and less ambitious version of LWS. I’d already paid for Professional Zoom thanks to the Arts Council’s funding, so why not put it to good use. We began small, on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 10am, with only the previous members of my writing classes invited, but once we realised how useful these dedicated writing times are, we are starting to expand. We have new members, friends of existing ones, and we’re up to three sessions a week (aiming for four next week).

How does it work?

Anyone interested in joining us emails me (or uses my website contact form) and I add them to the contact list. Each week I send out the Zoom link, and we all pop up on the screen one by one, introduce ourselves, chat briefly about what we’d like to achieve that session with our writing, then I mute everyone and we write. For just under an hour and a half, all I see on my screen is the top of people’s heads as they type or handwrite their poetry, novel, short story, blog, whatever.

At the end of the session, we unmute and chat about what we’ve achieved, which is usually astounding.

There’s some magic about these writing sessions. Something about the knowledge that other people are beavering away at their writing alongside you seems to unleash everyone’s creativity and drive away their gremlins, their writer’s block.

If you think this might work for you, why not give it a try? London Writers’ Salon are brilliant, but you’re also welcome to join us in the Ulster Dedicated Writers. Just email me or use the contact form on this website and I’ll add you to my list.

It turns out paying it forward is fun. I’ve met some brilliant, talented, wonderful writers, and I can’t wait to see them spread their wings and fly. I hope they’ll also pay it forward, when success finds them and when they’re in a position to do so.

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