By the Pricking of my Thumbs

Being a writer is a bit like being a witch.

It may seem a strange analogy, but I’m going to go there anyway.

Writing is a solitary pursuit, largely done quite furtively whilst nobody else is watching. Fear of being outed is never far from one’s mind. There is something of magic in writing poetry, just as there is something of poetry in making magic.  The muse descends and the words happen and sometimes it feels like I’m just a conduit for this stuff that comes out. Afterwards I’ll look at what I wrote and wonder how I on earth I came up with an idea, where it came from.

Then there’s the less pleasant aspects, like the pencils and scraps of scrawled-on paper that tumble inappropriately from my bag when I’m hunting for my keys. Like the way people look at me funny when I’m muttering to myself on the bus.

There is a witchy eccentricity to the writer; the way you sometimes don’t do your hair for days. Or how you trail off during conversations because you’ve been struck by an idea. I have been known to walk out of rooms when I’m in the middle of a conversation to write down that thing that just occurred to me. Writers, like witches, can be pretty antisocial.

But sometimes we need each other. Just as witches can benefit from being part of a coven, writers can benefit from getting together too.  Terry Pratchett puts it so well when he says that witches ought to be careful because, if left alone too long, they might start “cackling”. It’s a bit the same for writers. Too long in our own heads, alone with our stories, and we go a little bit strange. It is good to get out and talk to other writers and laugh at our idiosyncrasies, and sigh with relief and recognition at each others’ anecdotes.

It felt a lot like that for me at Wise Words Festival in Canterbury last weekend. I got so much out of talking and listening to other writers. It was reassuring; yes, this is what we do. It is ok. Yes, writers are a bit odd. But I’m not cackling yet.

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