Finding Your Authority

In my mind, the idea of a retreat has always conjured up an image of excessively thin and slightly hysterical, hypochondriacal women attempting to nurture their spiritual wellbeing while doing yoga and debating issues such as the essence of self.  Since the essence of myself, or so I thought, has disappointingly never been much of a mystery, it’s something I would have traditionally assumed was not for me.

However, having accidentally discovered a love of teaching through teaching creative writing, this year I decided to do a teacher training course.  I never intended to stop writing, but I was aware that the training would take over for a couple of years.  To justify this, I started telling myself that teaching was a more worthwhile profession than writing, less egotistical, less about telling the world how I see things and more about helping others discover how they see things.

This may be true, but the transition had brought about some soul searching, as I wondered whether embarking on my third career before the age of 40 said something about my staying power, and whether in taking on yet another steep learning curve I was going to undo all the work I had done in improving as a writer, whether I would find the will to continue.  On top of all this, I had just finished my fourth novel in as many years, and was exhausted.  All leading to me not writing a sentence for three months, something which I felt extremely guilty about.  I convinced myself that having a properly labelled stacking system in the upstairs cupboard was an infinitely more practical and important matter than writing a fifth novel, or even a short story.

I decided, then, to give a writing retreat a stab, and booked myself on a course at Moniack Mhor.  There was no yoga in sight (although the possibility of clandestine yoga having taken place can’t be excluded), and no hysteria, besides my own.  There were lots of writers, enthusiastic about reading and writing and their own writing styles and tastes.  There was amazing food and wine and beautiful surroundings.  And most importantly, I came back with a body of work, and the knowledge that whatever else I do in life, writing will always come foremost.

Among the many stimulating discussions that we had about writing, writers, and the future of publishing, two comments by resident tutors, Susie Maguire and Julian Gough, stuck in my head.  Susie likened the word author to the word authority.  Being an author is about finding your voice, the authority to be yourself, unashamedly.  And when that kind of authority exists in writing, when we recognise the confident, natural voice, we recognise the author.

Be fearless, said Julian Gough, giving us the not at all intimidating task of writing the best story in the world ever that we could possibly hope to write, where we see ourselves in ten years time.  I’m not sure I’ve achieved that yet (sorry Julian), but I now say to myself, each time I approach the screen, be fearless.

And then there was the inspiring presence of one of my favourite authors, Bernard McClaverty, a writer with no trace of ego, but fearless in his writing, with the natural authority of someone who has been there and done it and knows exactly why, knows that nothing is wasted.

So for what it’s worth, as I enter a new era of my writing life, here’s my advice for future authors.  You might make a living out of writing.  You might not.  You should want to improve not for the sake of your own ego but because of the story you want to tell the world.  Secure an alternative source of income, or enjoy being poor.  Find your authority.  Be fearless.   Take your time.  You have all the time in the world.


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