Through a Writer's Gaze
I saw a poster with a nice drawing of a seagull tacked to the edge of a classics shelf in a second-hand bookshop. It announced a ten-week writing class, which I thought would force me to complete the boring therapy book I was slavishly working on. A shut the fuck up and write kind of thing. But that wasn't what it was.
Pretty quickly after the first session I realised I was actually going to learn something in this class from these people. It wasn't just a carrot on a stick to get writing, it was rich and nuanced and I wasn't going to get away with leaning into old habits. I was going to have to be vulnerable and be seen.
The therapy book I was working on went out the window halfway through session one and I decided bravely, with a newfound writing cavalier emerging, to revive my embarrassing and never-shown fiction that came from the depths of my own mental breakdown in lockdown.
It had sat unread in the digital equivalent of a knicker drawer, one which definitely wasn't Emily Dickinson's lacey pantaloon drawer. More like the odd sock basket at a laundrette, with a losing-its-elastic thong that wasn't mine.
For one, we were asked to read the widely eclectic articles and short stories that the course leader chose. These were perfectly selected and forced me to read outside my comfort zone so I could write outside my comfort zone. The sessions involved rich discussions about every aspect of writing, character, sentence structure, plot arcs and where to put your commas. I have never previously considered these things (I still don't know where to put commas). And we read each other’s work each week and gave detailed, generous feedback to one another.
After the session in which my work had been read by the group, I decided to walk home and not get the bus. This is NOT something I do, but that I night I walked, in fact nearly skipped, home because I felt so high. Like an athlete doing a victory lap to burn off the leftover adrenaline. This group of intelligent strangers had read my most vulnerable work and didn't laugh at me. They actually liked it and had something to say about it.
I felt seen. This was a kind of vulnerability-making, as in the ensuing weeks, it meant I started to grieve all the writing I have never shared or even dared to write down. I write in my brain all day long but it rarely makes it to paper, largely down to a lack of self-belief.
I initially went for writing a therapy book because I thought I had to stay in my lane. This was challenged by this course. I found new lanes, some of which led to wide open fields, others were little cul-de-sacs or abandoned wastelands full of trinkets and broken furniture. All were beautiful and worth losing myself in.
That night as I walked home, I looked at things differently. I looked through a writer’s gaze.
Maybe I could be one. Maybe we are all one.
Anna Atkinson, workshop member