For teachers, the idea of a creative writing group might seem a bit of a busman’s holiday.
Surely the endless stack of essays to mark are enough to put anyone off the written word for a lifetime.
More from Yvonne Williams: 10 ways to make students more creative in their writing
But there’s much more to writing for pleasure than meets the jaded and exhausted eye. So what are the hoops of steel that bind me so tightly to my writing group?
1. The creative challenge
Words are utilitarian in teaching. So are the genres we’re channelled into: lesson plans, reports, forms and risk assessments.
2. Emotional wellbeing
Teaching is a highly stressful occupation. So much of the day is taken up with other people’s dilemmas and emotions. To be constantly giving can feel immensely draining.
Writing is cathartic. You get to practise your own craft and explore problems creatively. There’s shared humour and deeper discussion.
Just being with people who value you for what you write is immensely restful. We all need to escape beyond ourselves.
3. The feedback
Forget abseiling for thrills: it’s far more nervewracking sharing your work with other people.
There’s nowhere to hide as you realise that some phrases really don’t work, and that the dialogue you so lovingly crafted is going down like a lead balloon.
The group can offer a range of ideas to transform your writing.
4. The expertise
It’s great to be in a group that includes published writers, who are often very generous with advice on how to approach a publisher or agent.
Some may also be exploring online publishing, as print publishing outlets become fewer and farther between.
5. Other people’s work
So often you recognise in other people’s writing the problems that bedevil yours. In advising them, you act as a support for yourself as well. You pick up ideas and approaches you can try out later.
6. The conversation
Sometimes you discuss things that you wouldn’t discuss with your best friend. Writing brings some raw feelings to the surface – and some ridiculous ones.
This is especially true if you want to make your characters real, and particularly if you’re writing from a point of view that is different from your own.
7. The people
Writing is a solitary occupation, so it helps to have companions who understand what you’re putting yourself through.
Often lasting friendships are formed through the group. In my group, members who have moved away from the area still try to return, even from such far-flung places as the New Forest or South Africa.
8. Talks and workshops by successful writers
These are great opportunities to try out new techniques, and an impetus to write in an unfamiliar genre.
9. Location, location, location
Initially, our group would assemble in a draughty church hall with uncomfortable wooden chairs arranged round the perimeter. Then, to keep costs down, members offered to take it in turns to host the evenings.
I’ve shared writing on a boat that sailed around the world (not with me on it, I hasten to add), a house overlooking a castle by moonlight, in beautifully tended gardens and in cosy living rooms.
Finding a new venue in the dark of a winter’s evening is quite a challenge, but the meeting is always worth the suspenseful journey.
10. The food
Every meeting has biscuits and coffee or tea at the start, to set a cosy tone to the evening. Some groups even provide a light dinner.
And, of course, there are the writers’ lunches…
Yvonne Williams is a head of English and drama in a secondary school in the South of England. She has contributed chapters on workload and wellbeing to Mentoring English Teachers in the Secondary School, edited by Debbie Hickman (Routledge)