We’ve all heard of the back-to-work blues. Well I’ve got a serious case of it. More specifically, the post-Swanwick blues.
Until a few months ago I had never even heard of the Swanwick Writers’ Summer School. Fast forward to June and a lovely email arrived in my inbox to say I’d been accepted onto this year’s TopWrite scheme. I cannot speak highly enough of this initiative. It deserves a whole blog post of its own, but essentially it enables young, aspiring writers to attend the week-long event for a vastly subsidised fee which includes loads of workshops and talks and the opportunity to meet other writers.
I signed up for the week with the attitude that I had nothing to lose and rocked up with no real expectations. I actually arrived a day later than the other delegates, so at lunch on Day 1, I just plonked myself down at a table with a spare seat. My white badge indicated that I was a first-timer. The (very lovely) lady I sat with informed me she had been attending for an amazing 41 years. “This definitely won’t be your last,” she said to me with a knowing smile. A few days later and I couldn’t agree with her more. At the risk of sounding completely cliche, it really was an amazing week.
I attended workshops on everything from writing popular fiction, to memoir, paid markets for short stories and entering writing competitions. My mind is absolutely buzzing with inspiration and ideas. Here are five of the biggest things I’ll be taking away from my first Swanwick experience.
I’m a planner
I had a bit of a planning epiphany whilst at Swanwick. I’m quite the planner in my life and at work, yet with my writing I’ve often just tried to start a story and see what happens. (Aka ‘pantsing’). Thanks to the likes of Sophie Hannah, who explained in her brilliant evening speech how she spends 2-4 weeks writing her entire novel in note form before drafting and Sue Moorcroft (seen here with her epic novel plan) I feel like I actually know how I would approach writing my own novel. That alone has made the whole week feel worthwhile.
I’m not alone
Writing can be a lonely endeavour, but it really doesn’t have to be. Swanwick epitomises this. Everyone there is completely passionate about their writing which was such a breath of fresh air to me. I didn’t have to worry about boring people or feeling like I’m doing something silly. I’ve made genuine friends during the week and met some truly inspiring writers. Something which I really wasn’t expecting but feel so grateful for.
It’s about the story
The good thing about attending multiple classes led by different writers is the ability to recognise common themes. Aka stuff that must be quite important if everyone is saying it. I feel I’ve left the school with a much stronger concept of story arcs, what makes a story work and what gives it that ‘page turning’ quality. Sue Moorcroft summarised this brilliantly. A story is about a character who needs something (their goal) but conflict is standing in their way.
Playing the competition game
I enter quite a few competitions, not with the expectation of winning, but to provide prompts and all important deadlines. However, thanks to Ingrid Jendrzejewski, writing comp winner extraordinaire, I now feel armed with the tools to make it onto long lists, maybe even shortlists. Having been on the writing side and the judging side, Ingrid explained how writing prowess is just one part of the puzzle. Have I selected an obvious response to the theme? Am I writing about something the judges will read again and again? Can I submit before the deadline? (Sometimes the judges like to start getting ahead of the game with their reading).
I can write
To give us some practice, Ingrid encouraged us to enter her mini competition on the theme of ‘an unexpected visitor’. Before submitting, I enlisted the help of two of my new writing buddies to cast a critical eye on my piece and I did the same for them. Having got to know them well over the week, it was a privilege to read their work. On the final night when it came to announcing the competition winners, let’s just say the TopWriters smashed it! We came joint first and got an honourable mention! In a room full of such seasoned writers and a pool of 70 entries, this was a huge confidence boost and was the cherry on the cake of an amazing week.
Needless to say, I have just booked annual leave at work for next year’s 70th anniversary Swanwick Writers’ Summer School. A huge thanks to the Swanwick Committee and Friends of Swanwick for inviting me this year. Roll on 11th August 2018!