I’ve got to admit writing has not always been my thing. I didn’t get all the abstract, subjective, conclusions my English teacher used to reach in English interpretations and I despised poetry that didn’t rhyme. I wasn’t that keen on Shakespeare and the arts just didn’t do it for me. Don’t get me wrong I was an avid reader who loved a good story and I consumed books on a daily basis but the theoretical and abstract approach to understanding literature was way beyond me. I narrowly failed Higher English twice and I don’t really have any fond memories of the subject. Back then I remember penning a vivid description of a fourth round Scottish Cup tie between Motherwell and St Mirren but my English teacher was not impressed. “Lots of description and good spelling but nothing to get excited about,” was my teacher’s conclusion. He gave me a borderline pass and I blamed my failure on the fact he was a rugby fan.
In the work place my writing was well received and in my first four years I compiled many reports that were good enough to endure the scrutiny of lawyers and judges without any problem. Looking back, I have reached the conclusion that these early reports were not any worse than those compiled by my counterparts and were merely adequate as opposed to great pieces of work. It was only on being transferred from mainstream policing to a more specialised unit that my efforts received some criticism. My Sergeant bore an uncanny resemblance to Benny Hill, the comedian with the round face, bottle rim spectacles and protruding tongue. I’m sure this factor affected his promotion chances because he was sharp as a tac and should have been chief constable. He ripped my first report to sheds and it came back with more red ink and corrections than any of my school English essay’s. I took it all on board, changed my approach and never looked back. ‘What’s my angle?’ became the key factor in my writing.
Even then, the idea of attending a writing club wouldn’t have interested me. Images of my English teacher and memories of sitting confounded by his abstract conclusions about the meanings behind a simple sentence, which were so fanciful you would need a PHD in pretentious writing to have any idea what he was talking about, would have made a visit to the dentist more attractive than a whirl with a bunch of wordsmiths but someone invited me along and I bit the bullet.
That was a while ago and I’m still attending. In many ways it was like a trip back to my old English classes but I’m no longer intimidated by non-rhyming poetry and ostentatious prose. I love the way everyone in the room has a different interpretation of the weekly prompt and their eagerness to get it out there is inspiring. Whether its abstract, subjective or just nonsense, it doesn’t matter, it’s theirs and that’s what counts. Everyone looks for an angle that will take their writing on a different course from the others. No doubt my old English teacher would have lot to say about the varied approaches derived from the prompt and try to justify his highbrow approach to English literature but the writing club is a lot more fun than any of his classes ever were.
The prompt is challenging and encourages me to write about things I would normally avoid and to look for angles that no one else would consider. The in class exercise’s challenge you to pit your wits against the pen and create works without the assistance of google or any reference books. I’d still rather write about a football match than script a sonnet but that’s the point. Whether its poetry or prose, serious or nonsense, it’s your work and you can attack it from any angle you want because if we all did the same thing it would be dull. You won’t find an English teacher there and everyone talks in class but that’s the idea. It’s all about encouraging your writing and not shaping it. It prompts you to tackle a subject in the way you want to and in a manner that’s different from anyone else, so whatever your starting point that’s got to make your writing better. Check out some of my efforts at the prompt and if you’re the slightest bit interested in writing then checkout your local club. Mine's is Tyne & Esk, North Berwick group.