I can be pretty damned sarcastic (I know how surprised you must be to read that). But there are times when I want to be completely and totally honest. And this is one of those times.
Last night, I had the great good fortune to participate in a reading with other members of my MSc class in Creative Writing at the University of Edinburgh. Over the past three semesters, we’ve been together an awful lot. We’re a small class, which means that most of us know each other quite well. When I came to Edinburgh, I was a tad nervous to be in a group of other writers. I’ve heard of courses where writers compete against other, even come to hate each other because everyone else seems to be a threat. Thank God, that was not the case with this course. What I’ve found is a kind, loyal group of incredibly intelligent, talented people, ready to embrace each other’s work as well as provide criticism, understanding and, at times, commiseration. Trying to become a writer is not easy; it can be a thankless job and few of us will be able to make our livings at it. It matters a great deal to be surrounded by people who truly love what they do, and who are willing to support each other in the pursuit of a creativity that is simply not as readily rewarded in mainstream society as business acumen or financial prowess.
So last night, after an exceptional day of panels concerning the business side of literature, we got together and read our own work. In a pub, naturally; we at least fulfill that stereotype. Now, I do not particularly enjoy spoken word events. They can range on the spectrum from generally entertaining to mind-numbingly boring. At the worst, they can be pretentious celebrations of some very undeserved egos. Every once in a while, you come across an excellent reader or writer, but I admit that I have taken to avoiding them. Not so last night.
Having come through several semesters of at times painful workshops, I was grateful to hear stories I had never heard, and some that I had. Grateful to the camaraderie expressed every time someone else took the stage, and grateful just to be sitting with such a spectacular group of people. I will be shocked if every single one of us doesn’t manage to make a go of being a professional writer. MSc programs sometimes get a bad rap for being writing factories, producing generic ‘literary’ novelists. I can say with certainty that this particular program has not done that. We are all so incredibly different in our interests, in our styles, in the way we approach writing. This is a result, I believe, of particularly good instructors, but also of our own desires, our own independence.
We were told of the importance of having a community. What I learned last night was that we do not have to go looking for that community. It’s right there next to you, in the person you’ve argued with, got drunk with, laughed with, commiserated with. We have formed our own community and I, for one, am immensely grateful to be a part of it. And I can say that honestly, without sarcasm or cynicism.