A Tinkerer and a Dabbler with a Library Card

It’s confession time. I am a mere tinkerer and a dabbler with a library card. I read, and I write; but I did not study English Literature and I still can’t afford to send myself on a writing retreat (never mind the heady heights of an MA in Creative Writing).

This is undoubtedly a contributory factor as to why I have treasured the past six months so much. During this time I have been privileged enough to be one of twelve Scottish Borders writers selected for a Playwright Studio Scotland mentorship programme.

How wonderful my first taste of formal training as a writer has been.

As the mentorship nears its end, I keep finding myself drawn back to reminiscing about last summer and the first big memorable milestone of this exhilarating journey.

Playwright Studio Scotland curated a spectacular Edinburgh Festival day trip for us.

This is sacrilege but…I do not care for the Edinburgh Festival. It’s too loud, too busy, too overpowering. I adore the theatre, but I like to savour theatre trips like fine wines. For me they are holidays from reality, with carefully planned itineraries, usually involving other indulgences like seafood lunches, good company and nightcaps while an album hums in the background.

Neither of these scenarios suitably describes the trip last summer. The day was rewarding, but challenging and draining. It gave us the opportunity to see the National Theatre of Scotland’s award-winning production ‘Adam’ and have a private Q&A with writer, Frances Poet, before the show. We were invited guests to Playwright Studio Scotland’s AGM and networking lunch hosted by the incredibly talented Rona Munro.

Perhaps unsurprisingly though the part of that day, which I found most valuable, and burns the brightest in my memory is – writing.

The opening activity of the programme was a writing workshop with Lynda Radley, the award-winning playwright and dramaturg from Cork. The sheer difference between reading about writing exercises from a magazine or website and implementing them yourself and actually being coached through them, in a group setting, by a more experienced writer hit me right between the eyes.

Lynda’s steer throughout the workshop was vital – her examples of beautiful details really brought the exercises to life, and drove our works to be that much stronger. Similarly, it was helpful for my fellow writers and I to share snippets of our works. The variety was astounding, and circumstances ripe for cross-fertilisation of ideas. If I had done these very same exercises myself, sitting at the kitchen table with an egg timer their impact and benefits would have been significantly decreased.

Since then, I have revisited a number of the exercises that we did as a group (egg timer and all), and again found them very useful. Although I am certain that I would not have experienced as much success without the nuanced introduction from Lynda Radley.

Of course, as with many facets of life, the trick with developing your writing is to take a multi-pronged approach. To utilise all that you have at your disposal: writing exercises, library cards, writers groups, book groups and – when you can – more formalised coaching.

There will always be a handful of lucky, talented people who can bash out a masterpiece in a week or write their novel on the back of bus tickets on the way to work. But for the majority of us writing is hard work, and even once a more experienced writer teaches you tricks, it takes time to hone your skills and master them yourself.