I remember my first writing retreat vividly. In April 2012, I slumped in a comfortable armchair in a cosy room in Poulstone Court. There were another 8 people on the same retreat. I’ve 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. Each afternoon, our course leader Dr Barbara Turner-Vesselago read our pieces out loud. I gazed at 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 the next be mine? 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 any eye contact with other group members, in case they noticed tears in my eyes. I bit my lip to avoid crying or letting any emotion out. My body shook uncontrollably. The truth is 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. A few weeks ago, I had a meeting with three other members of my writing development programme (my deep gratitude goes to Writing West Midlands and its Room 204 project). While we sipped our soft drinks and shivered in a cool September evening outside a pub, we talked about our projects and what inspired us. By the end of our meeting we decided to meet up again, but this time to bring our writing and read it to each other. 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.
What about you? Do you have a community to share your work with?