I went to a writing meetup yesterday.
We sat at a long, festively decorated table in the middle of a restaurant in Oxford Circus, a dozen or so of us and our wordy screens and notepads.
It was my first time joining this particular group, so when the hostess met me at the door I mumbled something about an online meetup, a large table and people with laptops. I had already forgotten the name they went by on the site I’d found them on, a week or so earlier.
“You’re a writer,” she offered cheerfully, easily connecting the dots between my lack of verbal coherence, my blood-shot eyes and the supposed realities of the one thing in the world I knew I was not: a writer.
I followed her to the table, where a handful of people were already tapping away at their keyboards.
If there is one golden rule on which all these meetups are built, then it’s this:
If you arrive late, you sit down and write.
You don’t make a fuss, you don’t shake hands, you don’t sigh, grunt or cough. You don’t stir people’s creative juices with things as trite as hellos and howareyous.
It works in more ways than you know.
For the writing busy bees, who have had the decency to plan their commute ahead of time and are now already deeply engulfed in their drafts and re-drafts.
But also for you.
Especially if you happen to be, like me, somewhat inept in the ways of social interractions. Then it’s comforting to know that lingering around the restaurant for a few minutes past the appointed time may mean that you don’t even have to say hello to anybody when you eventually go in. That in this particular scenario, your native inhibitions are not only not frowned upon, but encouraged.
But regardless of how reassuring this prospect sounds, there is one circumstance in which it’s simply not acceptable to be that antisocial. And that’s when you join a group for the first time.
Believe it or not, the second golden rule of writing meetups is this:
When you join a group for the first time, you need to at least say hello.
Quite outrageous, I know. But such is the way of life.
So because I was a newbie at last night’s meetup, I couldn’t take advantage of the extraordinary, first golden rule.
Instead, I actually had to arrive a few minutes ahead of time, so that I could say hello and shake a few hands.
It took some courage, but I survived.
And then I finally, finally I sat down to write.
Remember how I spent the last few hundred words or so rambling about my anxieties around saying hello to people?
Well. Those anxieties are nothing compared to the ones I have around sitting among said people, each tapping away at their soon to be bestsellers. While I stare into the blank screen of my Ulysses app, where the cursor blinks and blinks and blinks but no words magically appear, not even one. For two hours.
It wasn’t that bad though. Not last night at least.
I even managed to flesh out the summaries for a handful of, I think, chapters. It’s not real writing, I know. They’re half-baked, bullet-pointy phrases, but they form a sort of almost coherent thought, and that’s more than nothing, I think. There’s also something extraodinary in the reality of fleshed-out, somewhat coherent thoughts, coming out of a meeting such as this: of strangers huddled up in a little bubble for an hour of two, for the sole purpose of putting their words in order.
After the writing session, we lingered in a coffee shop for a bit, to talk about said words.
As we went around the table, each admitting to or boasting about what we’re working on, it really hit me how different these people’s stories are from mine. How clear they seem to be in their minds, how easily they apply themselves to be summarised in seven words or less. While my own story is still volatile, still figuring out its own shape, the direction in which it’s heading and the shortcuts it’s willing to take to get there.
And I wonder.
Is this because my story is young? (Which, let’s be honest, it isn’t. I’ve been visiting and revisiting it in my mind, and occasionally on paper, for years.)
Or is it because I see stories as something more elusive to begin with? And because I see myself as being driven by the story, to wherever it wants to take me, rather than me holding the reins tightly in my grip and calling the shots?
Is it because they’re writers and I’m not?
It seems that today is a day of questions. That’s not a bad thing in itself, I don’t think. But the questions aren’t easy ones, either.
As I try to make sense of them in my own, personal writing bubble, I can’t help thinking though. Of all these people’s stories and the many ways in which they grow roots and branches all over London, and what a wonderful, miraculous thing that is.
Even just for that, it was worth summoning up the courage to say hello.