A couple of weeks ago I spent a fantastic weekend holed up in an ancient cottage in the Yorkshire Dales. My companions were five other writers - talented, funny, warm and thoroughly good company, every last one of 'em.
Our mission was simple: write stuff, critique stuff, gorge ourselves on cake and excellent home cooking, wash it all down with lashings and lashings of wine, and then launch into a nightly no-holds-barred, to-the-death "Articulate" grudge match.
It was great fun, and I got a lot out of it in terms of finding proper focus for my writing. The pieces I submitted for critiquing were old, and in some ways I felt I was doing both them and myself a disservice by not offering up something a bit fresher. The problem is that with very small chunks of free time available, I have struggled to produce much in recent weeks (if not months), so I've been digging up old stuff to edit and buff up - in the hope that it will at least keep whatever part of my brain generates fiction ticking over for the time being. Getting together with fellow writers has reminded me that we all have our obstacles in the way of sitting down and bashing out words, and that the only person who can do anything about it is me.
I drove back home with a much more determined head on, and I have so far written a couple of new, short pieces that I'm pleased with. So, if your writing could do with a boost, and you know of a few like-minded individuals, then round them up and get yourselves off to somewhere remote. You won't regret it. Unless they turn out to be axe murderers. You should probably check that before sending out the invites, actually.
The thing that really struck me during the critiquing sessions was how stupidly self-deprecating we all were about our work, almost apologising as we handed our stories around for what an appalling burden the others were about to receive. Which was nonsense, because - elbowing group modesty aside for a moment - we're actually reasonably good at what we do. Between the six of us we've got somewhere around 100 stories in print or online, we've notched up placings in highly regarded competitions, and have won hundreds of pounds in competitions. So we can't actually be as crap as we tend to think we are.
I've noticed a kind of contradiction in the world of writing - at least in the realm of online forums and writing classes - in that those who regard themselves as good writers, who feel they have learnt all they need and are simply waiting for the world to wake up and acknowledge their genius ... are, almost without exception, unspeakably awful. On the other hand, those who agonise over their words, who are never satisfied with what they've done, who are embarrassed by the gulf between what they wanted to say and the words they've managed to get down onto the page, are usually pretty good, or at least well on their way there.
It's good to question, to challenge your own work, and to strive for better. But that can be at the expense of looking back once in a while and thinking, "Yeah, actually, I can do this. I'm better than I was yesterday, not as good as I'll be tomorrow. I'm not perfect, but I can write."
Take pride in your achievements, but see them as stepping stones to where you want to be, not badges of honour to wave in people's faces. The inevitable rejections and those stories that sink without trace in competitions are steps on the journey, too. That's all, they're not a judgement on you as a writer or a person. So keep moving and don't beat yourself up about them.
In short, writers, give yourself a break.