During the last couple of years, I’ve been on some wonderful writing courses, all online. I’ve learnt a lot and, perhaps even more importantly, made friends. Many of those writer friends are happy to read my work and give feedback, encouraging me on my journey towards becoming a fully-fledged, published novelist!
But the first class I ever joined was a face-to-face one and it wasn’t nearly so supportive. Here’s a short extract I wrote recently, inspired by the experience:
It wasn’t really a test but it felt like one. It felt like all the exams she’d ever done at school, every first date she’d ever been on and her three – or was it four? – driving tests all rolled into one. She was putting herself out there, revealing herself to them for the first time, not knowing what they would think or how they would judge.
First impressions were what counted weren’t they? Would this make a good first impression? Or would her words fall on deaf ears, fail to resonate?
Opening her notebook, she tried to imagine what their response would be. She had never known them criticise, not even when there was much to criticise. Always positive, effusive even with their praise, they had greeted every offering with exaggerated enthusiasm, picking up on the tiniest detail, the slightest nuance. They took great pride in this mutual support, congratulating each other on the quality of their work, reassuring even the most nervous participant that their sentence construction was superb or their use of metaphor quite remarkable. They would laugh in all the right places, sigh wistfully at each description of moonlight on water or leaves rustling in trees, and even dab at their eyes with a tissue to show how moved they were.
But she was the outsider, the new girl in their midst.
She didn’t enjoy performing to an audience. For her, that wasn’t what writing was about. Writing was very personal, a way of making sense of the world and her place within it. A way to figure out the patterns in her life and explore how things might have been different. It was something she’d always done in private, alone, unaided. Her words exposed her, her real self, the person she seldom showed to other people.
She knew she would feel vulnerable, reading an extract from her memoir aloud in the group. But she was the only one who hadn’t shared anything so far, and it had to be done. She couldn’t put it off any longer.
The passage that she chose was funny, in parts. The story of a blind date she had been on, the silly mistakes she had made, the way she’d tried – and failed – to impress the handsome stranger who had sadly never called her again. She described her regret that she hadn’t “performed” better, hadn’t said the right things, or worn the right clothes. Her sadness that yet another date had gone wrong, and she was still single. Still lonely. Still returning at the end of the evening to an empty flat.
This time, they didn’t laugh in the right places. No-one sighed and nobody reached for a tissue.
She knew that she had failed the test.
There isn’t really a moral to this story, except to say that not everyone will like your writing. Maybe in a room full of people, no-one will. That doesn’t mean it’s no good. It just means that you haven’t found your audience.
For the record, I’d like to add that I only failed one driving test before passing on the second attempt!