WordWatchers: Priceless

February 14, 2016


Working hard at Symondsbury

As I write this, I’m nestled in a corner sofa in a rambling and eclectic house in deepest Dorset. The fire is crackling, I can hear the tap of keys, the hum of voices as two authors sit in the kitchen bouncing plot ideas around. The atmosphere is peaceful, relaxed, yet focused.


This is Symondsbury, the yearly writing retreat of WordWatchers, and the lovely folks who surround me are some of the most important people who have accompanied me on my writing journey.


I joined WordWatchers in 2008. I’d just moved to the area, was keen to meet new people and had an idea for a novel that I really wanted to write. One dark November night, I drove to a cottage in the woods and began the chain of events that led to the publication of my first book in February 2015.


What blew me away about WordWatchers was how dedicated everyone was, how invested they all were in their craft, how seriously they took it. I was shocked that they minuted their meetings – as if we were at work! Every meeting, each person made promises of what they intended to do that month, and those promises were revisited during the updates the following month.


I wondered if this was for me. It all seemed so formal. It was, after all, just a hobby – not a job. But as I got to know the group members, I realised how many of them had completed novels … yes, actually finished them! Katherine Webb, WordWatchers’ most successful member, had written six novels. When I joined, her seventh, The Legacy, was being considered by a major UK publisher. And then I realised something. Whatever it was this group had, it worked.


Some WordWatchers at Katherine’s book launch


The first promise I made was to write 10,000 words. I’m a conscientious person and found the fact that I’d have to account for myself the next month very motivating. Of course, no one would’ve minded if I’d rocked up and said that I’d only managed 2,000 words, but I so wanted to hit that target.


Six months later, I had a first draft. Six months after that, an extract from my novel won a competition and was circulated in an anthology to agents and editors. The following year, I had signed with an agent.


WordWatchers provided the most nurturing, encouraging and supportive atmosphere in which to grow as a writer. Thanks to their careful critiquing, gentle guidance and advice, I have improved more than I did during my degree in English Literature with Creative Writing. And it has been considerably cheaper!


It’s not just about writing, though. I was delighted to have two ‘WordWatchers’ tables at my wedding. I’ve been to summer BBQs, Christmas meals and weekend retreats. I’ve roped some of them into moving furniture around my house. When I was stuck at home with no power and unable to access the copy edits on my latest novel, a WordWatcher (John) was the first person I called.

Playing hard!

Playing hard at Symondsbury


As you can probably tell, this is so much more than a writing group. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that WordWatchers is like a family. I won’t name names but I know who I think of as the matriarch and patriarch, everyone’s favourite aunts and uncles, the squabbling cousins (yeah, I’d be one of them!), the naughty children. And – in the same way a family does – WordWatchers listens, sympathises and supports when ‘life stuff’ gets in the way of writing.


As I sit in this fabulous house where we’ve shared food, drinks, games, ideas and laughter over the last few days, I think about how comfortable we all are in each other’s presence, how easy it is to sit in silence while we’re working, but equally how easy it is to look up, ask someone’s advice on a particular word, phrase or scene.


I am taking a break from writing, and therefore from the group. I’m not allowed to say I’m leaving – I’ve been told it’s a sabbatical. I shall miss these warm, funny, creative, intelligent and generous people very much, and am just glad that I will still be able to see them at socials.


I was talking to Julian yesterday about some plot problems he’s been wrestling with. At the end of the conversation, I could see from his face how much better he felt, how – just from talking – we’d raked back some of the brambles and he could see a clearer path ahead of him. He told me, ‘That conversation was priceless.’ I replied, ‘WordWatchers is priceless.’


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