Friday, 3 May 2013

Happiness is: Discovering the right way of writing in a pub


A man walks into a bar. He asks the barmaid where he can find the Pens in Pubs group. She replies; “In the skittle alley”.

It’s not funny but it is true.

I recently joined a new initiative called Pens in Pubs run by The Theatre Orchard in Bristol who also perform plays in pubs and all sorts of venues in Bristol and North Somerset.

Whilst I work mainly from home I enjoy writing in pubs, hotel foyers, trains, cafes - anywhere I can people watch between bursts of writing. But I’ve always avoided writers groups; mainly because some writers will use more words describing their work than they actually wrote. It can be like listening to someone describing a dream they had last night in great detail.

But Pens in Pubs is not like that because it has rules.

When David Lane, our leader/mentor/chief surpriser, started a session by telling us he had some strict rules I tried not to sigh into my pint.

I don’t really do writing rules other than ‘sit down and write the bloody thing’, ‘get in late and get out quick’ and ‘edit until your eyes your bleed’. In my current novel I created the characters and their back stories, put them on a cruise ship from Scotland to Barcelona and left them to write themselves.

But we like David’s rules. They are good rules.

Rule no. 1. Don’t explain what you’ve written
Rule no. 2. Don’t apologise for what you have written.
Rule no. 3. Don’t give lots of feedback on what someone else has written. Just listen carefully and take it in. You can always discuss it with them later.

How do these rules work?

David has given us a number of exercises where you create anything from a character to an entire book/play/poem idea in 10 minutes. The inspiration can be listening to a piece of music, writing continuously on a topic for five minutes or just creating a scene from what David tells you.

The end result is startling. If you’ve created a new play in five minutes it’s not going to be perfect, but it works.

No. Really. It does! And you get through loads of different exercises.

For example, we had to pretend we had found a book and had to imagine what the cover looked like. Then we had to write the first two sentences. Shortly afterwards we had to open the book a third of the way in and write the first two sentences on the page. Next up we opened it a bit further on to discover there was a picture in the book and we had to sketch that. Finally, we had to write the last two sentences (not including The end).

Guess what? We all created a viable book plot in about 50 words and a really bad drawing. Even better, some of them were fascinating. The rules force us to listen and appreciate each piece just the way it is.

The group itself varies from people with significant writing experience to those who were just starting to enjoy the process of writing for pleasure. This includes poets, script writers, playwrights, bloggers and novelists.

The sheer variety of the writing we produced in response to the exercises was staggering. The human imagination is so powerful it’s terrible that we tend to stop using it in this way when we ‘grow up’.

So in short, I now like writing groups. Especially ones where you can have a drink, follow rules and be ridiculously creative
You can find more information about The Theatre Orchard here at  and click on Pens in Pubs to find out more about mixing writing and drinking. You can also read blog articles by David Lane and the fab Emma London who is kindly volunteering her time to help with Pens in Pubs on the Theatre Orchard blog.

If you live in the North Somerset/Bristol area and would like to come and join us we’d be delighted to see you at the Pens in Pubs sessions and there will be a performance of the work we produce as a group on Monday 20 May 7-9 pm at The King’s Arms, 12 St George’s Hill, Easton-in-Gordano, BS20 OPS. Come and join in the fun!

Did you notice I managed to resist the temptation to add in the “Don’t tell anyone about Fight Club” rule? Dead mature me. Oh, hang on… Oh bugger.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this Russ - really helpful to see the sessions from a writer's point of view!

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