Thursday, 28 July 2011

The power of nurture

A billion realisations are running through my brain, and I think I need to share them; I’ve been trying but failing for some time to articulate something that feels really important to me . . .

When I set up Sapphist Writers, I had a very specific vision, and I think I’ve recently discounted my own voice and the power of that vision. Sapphist Writers was supposed to be something different, and its way of being, even though fluid and influenced by all its members had at its heart an important identity – part of which was not to be like other writer’s groups.

I’ve had a number of conversations recently, trying to get across something of what that original intention was, but I was struggling to articulate it. I spoke of wanting the group to be nurturing and supportive, but the counterpoint was ‘yes, but is that really any use to us in developing our writing?’

I realised that for such a long time I’ve been getting massive amounts of feedback on my writing from various other sources – from beta readers, from fellow members of my writer’s course, from tutors, from a particularly insightful partner, and even from other individual group members, so what was it in me that resisted the idea that the group as a whole needed to be more focussed on critiquing – that somehow without this, we aren’t sufficiently ‘developed’ as a group?

When I started the group I did extensive research, I had discovered that most successful writers discourage the joining of writers groups, and so part of what I wanted was not to be like those groups. How could feedback be more helpful? What is it we really need as writers? My attempts to express this have been woolly, and have left my fellow writers thinking I’m scared of feedback or wanting us all to “play nice”.

Then today I was talking about writing as something deeply personal rather than abstract, and I finally understood. Creative writing cannot be simply an intellectual exercise – we really do put a part of ourselves into our writing and it really is us that we’re putting ‘out there’ when we share our work. These parts of ourselves need, above all, nurturing and feeding.

My instinctive desire to create a space where women could come together and feel nurtured and free of judgement was spot on, because I know as a counsellor we only grow if we don’t constantly hit against other’s inhibiting conditions of worth. In counselling, many believe the safe space and the good relationship are necessary and sufficient for growth, and I’m not so sure things aren’t the same for writers, which is why so many successful writers try to discourage people from joining groups; an over-zealous group can quickly inhibit a burgeoning writer. As humans we tend to fall into the idea that to control and guide people is more essential than to nurture and love them, but this probably isn’t the case.

Recently somebody said to me ‘telling me my poem’s wonderful is useless to me’ and so it is. But telling somebody what’s really good about the way they write is probably a million times more valuable than telling them what’s wrong with it, because as we’re always being told, energy flows where attention goes, and who wants the focus of their work to be on what they do wrong? That’s not to say critical feedback doesn’t have its use or its place, but I guess for me, I’d unnecessarily come to feel the group I’d created was somehow lacking because this had not been the main focus or purpose of its meetings. Now I think differently – in a world where we’re constantly being bombarded with messages of how to be better, I finally see the immense power of a space that says we’re wonderful just as we are. In fact, that may very well be the scariest and most challenging feedback of all.

Sapphist Writers are wonderful just as they are and I’m finally realising my original vision was a worthwhile one, and worth preserving. And with this realisation comes profound love and respect for all the Sapphist Writers, past and present, who have touched my life so deeply.

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