For pleasure writing

Using That Writing Muscle

Photo by Pixabay on

[Writing] isn’t a tender flower that needs cossetting and protecting. It is a muscle that grows stronger with use

Christopher Booker “Seven Basic Plots”

In my writing groups I say that writing is like running a marathon. One has to train for ages and ages, have a plan and a schedule. Stick to that schedule. Know that we could get tired so need buddies to run with. But also know that there are hundreds and hundreds of other people who will be out there on marathon day who will have been training too which means we might not win!

This doesn’t mean we don’t try, that we don’t put in the work. But we need to be like the woman in the above picture – enjoying ourselves as we go. The goal is to finish and to better oneself but also to have a good time

Writing is a muscle one must use regularly. So we do need to put in the time every day if possible. WritersHQ suggest 20 mins per day. We can all find 20 mins per day if we want to. Then we work that muscle. We give ourselves goals of 500-1000 words per day and we work that muscle. From that maybe a novel will appear. Maybe something like The Little Yellow Boat materialise or like my poem. If you read my stories behind those they took a lot of time and effort and using that muscle.

Of all the creative activities writing is the one that fits differently. People go to pottery classes but don’t expect to become potters. People do bead making and most do not set up stalls to. People paint not expecting to set up a gallery. But many people come to writing groups expecting to be published. It is a great goal to have but I do believe that first and foremost one needs to be working that muscle and enjoying the process, producing lots of work that sits in files on the laptop or in notebooks in boxes under the bed.

Yes I do know that if you go to pottery or art or beading groups you can make Christmas presents for friends and family and with writing groups it isn’t quite the same. Though I often write one of stories or poems for friends and family and think I might start doing it more often.

But I do think writing first and foremost has to be for fun, for exploring ones own thoughts, feelings or as I did with a story about a terrorist, entering someone else’s thoughts and wondering the why of what they do. Winning a competition or getting published being a lovely outcome but will not come without working and working at that writing muscle – a muscle that includes editing and reworking as much as the process of writing. The Bell Jar is only 6 lines long and less than 80 words. It look me three weeks of editing and reworking to get to the point of sending it to the competition. This is why I had to enjoy what I’d writing and enjoy the process of editing it.

So when I say to groups make sure you write for fun and that most of what you do will sit on your laptop I want to introduce them to the reality of writing.

On another ponder – which I will not answer – I wonder why so many people will say to someone who write “what have you published?” when they wouldn’t say to someone do went to an art class “what have you sold?

qualifications skills


Bath Spa graduation bear belonging to Diane Woodrow on her graduation in May 2014
Bath spa graduation bear on my graduation with a 2.1 in History and Creative Writing – May 2014

What is it with qualifications these days? Everyone seems to need them for whatever they do and I think from that we give too much importance to those who are able to gain the qualifications and those who have the skills but either not the academic ability or just haven’t had the time.

The reason I am pondering this at the moment is to do with my work with Youthshedz. Two of the people I work with have both said to me on separate occasions “but I’m not a youth worker”, meaning they don’t have the qualifications. I’ve done a lot of youth work in my time [and still don’t have the degree for it] and have worked with some who have degrees, Masters and even PhDs in youth work, and yet these two people that I’m having the privilege to work with now have such skills with the young people, such empathy, life skills and life experience. Both have got stories to tell of their past and remember what it is like to be young. They aren’t doing youth work to these young people but are down with them, learning along with them, getting their hands dirty, seeing their own issues and changing as they go. The young people love them, respect them and want to be with them. To my mind if that isn’t qualification then I don’t know what is.

But I do think since Tony Blair’s “50% of the school leavers will get to University” bid back in Sept 1999 did so much harm to learning. It put qualifications on a pedestal. No longer a place for those who are very academic and want to study a subject to a higher level, but an expected place for all young people and a failure if they don’t reach it. But also it said to everyone else who, like the people I am working with, that if you don’t have the piece of paper then be careful what you say you are.

As you can see from the above picture I graduated in 2014 after my son had left home and my daughter was in her first year at university. I didn’t intend to go to university, but I loved it and gained much from it. I have since gained a PGDip in Using creative writing for therapeutic purposes, which I use the concepts often in my writing workshops, and have completed two years of a Celtic studies MA, looking at Medieval history and literature in Wales and Ireland, which I incorporate into my writing. What I noticed when I was doing my BA was that so many of the mature students were totally paranoid and fixated about getting a first, yet when I talked to people who had graduated before me they were saying that employers looked highly on mature students even if they had only gained a third because of their life experiences.

It is not the piece of paper that makes you good at your job but your experiences. Yet unfortunately it could be that piece of paper that gets you the extra money. Please can we go back to valuing the skills not the ability to pass qualifications?