We all love a compliment …. don’t we?

At a Christmas party earlier this week my appearance was complimented very enthusiastically by two male acquaintances.  It transpired that one had been in the pub since lunchtime and I know the other is sight impaired.   Did this make the compliments any lesser?  “I’d take it anyway” said a friend when I told her.   In fact, earlier this year I had a small piece published in Reader’s Digest about a similar thing which happened to me years ago at a funeral. I remember a colleague of mine being distraught after her favourite skirt was admired by a woman with very bad fashion sense.  When is a compliment not a compliment?  Or could it be that some people are useless at being praised?

As a nation we are completely rubbish with accepting compliments: it’s just not British at all.  I’ve found women of my generation in particular have been raised to be self-deprecating and modest: “Oh, this old thing, I’ve had it years”.  Being thought to be conceited is horrifying. Not so with others.  The best show of blatant immodesty I have come across was in my ex, raised by an adoring Turkish mother. After we split up he sent me a photo (this was twenty years ago before technology) of himself, with these wonderful words inscribed on the back: “Look how lovely I am.  Look what big mistake you make.”  I’ve kept it for when I need a laugh.  Part of me though would just love to have one-fifth of his self-belief.

But what about having our writing complimented?  I’m thrilled when someone has enjoyed something I have written, probably because, like most writers, I put my heart and soul into my work; it is my biggest passion.    (Apologies to my husband and the dog).  Who was it who once said “Writing is easy.  You just sit at a typewriter and open a vein”?  Very true. Nothing lifts the sensitive writer’s spirits more than being told how great your latest blog or article is.  Even the biggest bestselling novelist loves a compliment, be it a tweet, a great review or seeing someone on a beach or train enjoying their novel.  I’ve never once waved away a compliment about my writing, enquired if the complimentor is under the influence of alcohol or insisted that it was “rubbish, really”.  I try to be gracious and modest whilst saving the little dance of victory for later.

To end on a lighthearted note, the muddling of the words “complimentary” and “complementary” always tickles me. I quite expect a shelf of books labelled “complimentary medicine” to spring forth and admire my new dress.  (Oh, this old thing? I just threw it on!”)

Merry Christmas to all my readers!




Anatomy of a Writing Group

Author Jane Wenham-Jones in her brilliant book  ‘Wannabe A Writer?’ lists the various characters which populate an average writers’ group. There will be: a deaf old lady; a man called Brian or Stan who has written a History of the Town; a woman of a certain age and girth who wears a sensible skirt; a pimply young man who is writing a fantasy novel; and a shy young girl who’s joined because her mum thinks she should get out more.  A quick straw poll among writing friends and from my own writing group experience suggests this is a very accurate representation!

I really enjoyed the diversity of my old writing group, of which I was a founder member.  People from varying walks of life and very different personalities — and, it has to be said, writing ability — came together once a fortnight with a shared interest: writing, that great leveller.  The retired, the curious, full-time homemakers, professional people, students, the unemployed, serious writers, published novelists, tentative scribblers and the terrified made up a varied and dynamic group.

Just five of us attended the inaugural meeting in a local pub one autumn evening and now, although work commitments and a house move mean I no longer attend, the group boasts over thirty members, has published three anthologies, runs a weekly newspaper column and hosts regular events such as Open Mic nights, parties and stalls at the local carnival and history day.   Lifelong friendships have been formed and many writers have gone on to have their work published.

It’s not always so convivial.  A friend’s writing group has massive infighting due to politics, huge personality clashes and a lot of bickering over the tea and biscuit rota.  As the piece de resistance, one memorable evening two members, both elderly gentlemen, rolled up sleeves and squared up to each other over the ‘constructive feedback’  that one had made over the other’s piece.  Just as with church flower rotas which, I am led to believe, are fraught with power trips, favouritism and jealousy, I have heard of several writing groups imploding under the sheer weight of artistic differences and involving break-away factions setting up rival groups.  My friend claimed that her group provided some priceless social observation which went on to fuel her own writing.

My experience was mainly positive.  I was hugely impressed with the raw talent, support and encouragement emanating from my group. Everyone was so passionate about their writing.   In fact, so keen was everyone that a strict ten-minute clock had to be observed to allow everyone a turn to read out their work.  Criticism was nearly always constructive and praise was always given where due.

I think I largely have my writers’ group to thank for gaining the confidence I needed which set me on the road to becoming a published writer.   I loved being with people who just ‘got’ my burning desire to write.  Before then, I used to look at writing as my guilty little secret.  In fact, when I met my husband, I told him I was at an AA meeting on alternate Wednesday nights rather than ‘fess up that I was at a writers’ group.  Now I’m out of the closet and able to indulge my passion in public.   Writing can be a lonely business, just you and the blank page, and building a support network of like-minded people is hugely nurturing and a vital lifeline.

So if you have a local writers’ group, do join in.  It will be an enriching experience.