In the early days of TLC, Rebecca Swift wrote an article in The Independent about writers groups and whether they were an effective forge for interesting new work, or simply a new form of therapy for unpublished writers. Read on to find out what she discovered.
“The notion of creative writing in a group setting has been held in deep suspicion, ridiculed by “real” writers as an activity for deluded, talentless people, an embarrassment to those who strive to produce glittering works painstakingly and in solitude. Michele Roberts attributes this “mystique” about literature to the fact that, until relatively recently, writing was thought of as the domain of the gentleman-with-means: “The solitary genius in the garret is a male myth, as he would undoubtedly have been supported by several unacknowledged women who cooked and ironed.” Distrust of groups, she thinks, might also stem from the fact “that a band of women can just start up in the suburbs and learn how to make a book: it’s one in the eye for professionalism.”
I shared all these negative attitudes when I was first approached in the corridors of the publishing company where I worked, and invited to join a writers’ group. While something in me lurched longingly towards the possibility of community and discipline, a larger part shuddered with distaste. Was it my university-EngLit background? Was I an embodiment in modern form of the “gentleman-with-means” elitism? I had in mind writers like Doris Lessing and Iris Murdoch. They had done it alone; surely any writer worth her salt would also be able to? Yet, when I looked for it, cynicism was far harder to find than I had imagined”.