King Edward's School BATH

"Keep going.  Keep writing" urges author, Anna Wilson

"Keep going.  Keep writing" urges author, Anna Wilson

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10 October 2018

Anna Wilson, author and guest judge of this year’s Short Story and Poetry competitions, champions creative writing ahead of tonight’s launch of the Anthology* at Topping & Co Booksellers in Bath.

It is always a joy to judge a senior school writing competition. Firstly because it is wonderful to see that, at a stage in your lives when you have so many other pressures on your time, you still find the time to write. Secondly because, more often than not, the quality of writing at your stage of life is head and shoulders above that of many adults – this is where the exciting writing is!

If I had a pound for every adult I have met who has told me that they “have a novel in them” (sounds uncomfortable, I want to say – have you tried laxatives?) I wouldn’t have to worry about earning any money from my own writing. “But you see,” they tell me, “I just don’t have the time to write”. They’re dreaming of “becoming a writer” as though it’s something magical which will come to them at some point in their lives. At the right moment. When they’ve paid off the mortgage. When the kids have left home. When they finally have TIME.

The thing is, it’s not really about having lots of time – it is about drive and ambition, which many of you clearly have in spades.  Because if you really want to write, it’s more of a NEED than a desire. And so you find the time, no matter what else is going on. Just as you find the time to eat or sleep. 

So you’ve done it – you’ve written a poem or an article or a sketch. But what is it that makes you “A Writer”? How do you “become” one?  When I was your age I was terrified of anyone looking at anything I had written – convinced that I wasn’t good enough, never would be.  I read voraciously and wanted more than anything to produce something that measured up to the writing of my favourite authors. But I never entered a writing competition. I never showed anyone anything I wrote and I certainly didn’t dare call myself a writer – even though that is what I was doing in every spare moment I had. Writers were people who had books published. They were serious people who devoted their life to their craft. They weren’t teenagers who scurried away to their bedroom to write in journals …

Because that is what I did – I wrote obsessively in journals – private outpourings from my teenage soul – it was my attempt to make sense of the world.  (It still is.) But I wasn’t a writer. Was I?

At university I was surrounded by writers. Terrifyingly bright people who were reading Medicine and Philosophy and Natural Sciences and Anthropology, but who were also writing plays and novels and poems and sketches. Some of them went on to careers in TV and on the stage and had their novels and poems published. Two of them had their first novels published while still at uni. (Blast them.) I watched from the sidelines and put my energy into applying for a ‘proper job’.

I went into publishing (well, it was connected to writing, wasn’t it?) and worked with some amazing writers including Michael Bond who wrote the Paddington books, famous YA writers including Meg Rosoff and Neil Gaiman – I even proofread the last Harry Potter. All very exciting.  Still I wanted to “become a writer” myself. Eventually, I went on a writing course. With great trepidation I showed the tutor my work. He looked me in the eye and said, “Well, I can see that you are a writer”. And that was all I needed. Suddenly, I was a writer. After years and years of actually writing, it took someone else to call me a writer to make me believe that I was. It gave me permission.  Which is ridiculous, because I had been writing ever since I could pick up a pen.

And writing is now something I run to, every day. Even on days when I am giving talks or teaching at Bath Spa. Of course it isn’t always a joy – it is a job too – I have deadlines, just like you do for homework – I have editors breathing down my neck, waiting for words. And that can be hard. But ultimately, if I didn’t write, I wouldn’t be happy. Writing keeps me sane (OK, that is debatable …) and I carve out time for it.

I was once told that the French writer, Molière, hired a servant to tie him into a chair at his desk every morning with the instruction not to untie him until he had finished his work. He had to please his royal patron, the Sun King Louis XIV, who often demanded a new play in less than 48 hours. No excuses about “not having time” or “writer’s block” for Molière!

Happily, I don’t have to please a tyrant king, but sadly I have no servants. I do, however, sometimes have to tie myself to the desk by other means to get the writing done – I turn off WiFi, leave my phone in another room and sometimes set a timer. I allow myself to do nothing but write, even if I feel as though I have nothing to say. The words do come, and even if I end up deleting most of them later in the process, I have made a start.

So, once you have carved out that precious writing time, you have to go for it. No excuses.  No listening to those negative voices in your head telling you that you can’t do it.

And if the writing I have seen here at KES is anything to go by, go for it you do. You pour yourself onto the page. While adults hum and hah and scratch things out, you young people cover pages and pages with wonderful stuff.

I believe this is because you are at a point in your lives where everything is there for the taking. You are on the brink. You are teetering on the edge of a crossing from one stage of life to the next, you are full of adrenaline – opportunity, excitement and purpose. This is what I see when I read your writing. Your images are alive, your language sings, your ideas bounce off the page.

Keep going. Keep writing. Don’t become one of those adults at a dinner party who waxes lyrical about having a novel (or a painting, or a poem) inside them – blocked in their intestines like badly digested food. Take the baton and run with it. From what I have seen at KES, there are glittering prizes awaiting on the horizon for many of you.


*The Anthology is the annual collection of short stories, poetry and artwork from the writers and artists at KES.  

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