Monday, 4 September 2017

Closed Communities, Spiritual Hothouses and Writing Groups by SC Skillman

Today I was thinking about the relationships we form throughout our lives; those that endure through many seasons, and those that either fade away, or are deliberately broken. In life I've discovered that the dynamics between people can be understood in terms of energy exchange.
Within a group of people there can be some who give energy to the group, and others who drain energy from those around them. Although we might not consciously acknowledge what is going on, in our lives this determines who we stay in relationship with, and who we instinctively want to distance ourselves from.

In my novels I am fascinated by human psychology and by the way different personalities interact with each other, and in particular, group dynamics. I write about spiritual communities, cult groups and charismatic leaders, and have been infuenced by years of personal experience in this area. And yet I will have to say this: look no further than a group of writers if you want to explore intense relationships in a closed, hothouse community.

Amongst the writing groups I've experienced, I can number an Arvon Foundation poetry course, numerous weekend workshops, courses and conferences, a creative writing course at Lancaster University, the annual Winchester Writers Conference, my own ACW local groups and writers days, and many more. I am shortly to attend ScotsWrite, a conference organised by the Society of Authors in a hotel near Glasgow; and I look forward immensely to meeting new people in the writing, publishing and editing world, making contacts, perhaps building new connections. And I am also alert to the fact that there may be other, less positive elements to the experience.

What I have found is that intense, and sometimes draining, sometimes energising relationships can spring up very quickly in the hothouse environment of a residential writers workshop, course or conference. When we spend a lot of time alone working on a novel, and we then meet others who share the same aspirations, the same joys and sorrows, the same longings and challenges, with different levels of so-called 'success', it can be an overwhelming experience.   Conversely we can also experience jealousy, anger, despair, hopelessness, misery, impostor syndrome, and frustration.

This can also  help us to understand why people drift away from groups, without ever explaining why.

As writers our ongoing challenge is to understand the human heart; nothing we experience is ever wasted though sometimes it may take us several years before we can bring ourselves to write about it, or allow it to enter our creations. An understanding of human psychology is the business of all fiction writers, whether they write psychological suspense thrillers or not. And I believe at the core of this must come this one observation: judge not, lest you be judged. As writers we can be in the hearts and minds of our created characters. In real life, we only ever see and experience one another from the outside. But within the pages of a novel, the writer does indeed have that godlike insight into the inner world of the principal characters. Herein lies the joy of writing fiction.


  1. Oh gosh, you're so right about the intensity. I remember when I escaped to an Arvon course when my children were much younger - probably between 8 and 14 - leaving them with my husband. I was BUZZING with all that had happened on the course when I arrived home but they, not unreasonably, didn't really want to hear about it and were distinctly underwhelmed. I remember running upstairs, crying at their lack of interest, comparing them very unfavourably with the group of enthusiasts I'd just left! I'd like to think I'd deal with it more maturely now. I'm not sure, though .....

  2. I'd add that writers are normally sensitive, imaginative, dream-following types, hugely invested in their work, and so extremely vulnerable when sharing their work. As such, it's hard to avoid taking comments (whether praise or criticism) personally. No wonder that emotions and egos can run high!