‘The most helpful quality a writer can cultivate is self-confidence – arrogance, if you can manage it. You write to impose yourself on the world, and you have to believe in your own ability when the world shows no sign of agreeing with you.’
Hilary Mantel, author of the hugely acclaimed Wolf Hall trilogy, knew a thing or two about writing. Not least the fact that you can have any amount of natural (or learned) talent for putting ‘words in their best order’, as Samuel Coleridge’s maxim describes it, but if you don’t have faith in your own capacity to realise that talent right through to the last sentence of the final chapter, then those words may well remain hidden from the world in perpetuity.
As an extra barrier to her achievement, Mantel – who died in 2022 at the age of 70 – had suffered from the debilitating condition endometriosis since she was 19.
Self-belief is often the elusive missing piece in a writer’s armoury, but it can be instilled by experiences of Unconditional Positive Regard. The humanist psychologist Carl Rogers described UPR as the complete support and acceptance of a person; it’s about being viewed in a positive way, and not being judged. This leads to a stronger sense of self-worth, which in turn enables a person to become more confident and motivated to pursue their goals. Significantly, such a person believes that they are capable of accomplishing those goals.
A big believer in the benefits of UPR is award-winning author Angela Jackson, who with the generous help of funding from the Scottish Book Trust, came to Ecas in March to discuss her latest novel The Darlings. Published in 2021, the book has been described as a ‘humane, life-affirming read’, which ‘perfectly captures the complexity of an affair. Angela Jackson writes with precision, empathy and humour.’
The central character, Mark is motivated by the quest to be loved for who he is – to be cared for, as Carl Rogers put it, ‘as a separate person, with permission to have his own feelings, his own experiences’. One of Mark’s childhood experiences – killing his best friend in a freak accident – has had a profound impact on his life and his relationships, until someone from his past gives him the chance to once again feel the enfolding warmth of unconditional love.
A big hit of love
It’s something we are all glad to receive, and one of the reasons Mark becomes a stand-up comedian – as Angela remarked, ‘laughter is like a big hit of love’. For one of our group, it was her mum who enabled her to feel that ‘whatever I went through, I would get through it’, and for another, ‘whenever your brain says you can’t do things, it’s having someone who says you can do it’.
After one of our members had a stroke, staff at the hospital ‘got me back on my feet… It was knowing I was not alone – something to tap into, even when that person wasn’t there, pulling you forward.’
In a similar vein, Angela told us about the support she received from her English teacher, and since then at key moments in her life, thinking, ‘What would Mr Douglas say?’
As Angela pointed out, ‘writing (rather like life) is about not staying in a rut, trying things that scare you a little’. She added that ‘we’ll risk a lot to feel OK about ourselves’. With this in mind, she set us the task of writing a passage of dialogue, one of the most tricky technical skills to master. Angela mentioned how listening to people has informed her writing at least as much as anything she has learned in her formal writing education. It’s a special characteristic, closely linked to empathy, and is as helpful in writing authentically as it is in living a good life. Something to remember when you’re offering a little unconditional love of your own.
John Mackay – Reading & Creative Writing Group
Reading and creative writing at Ecas
Join our weekly Reading and Creative Writing group to explore your literary side in the good company of others. Enjoy:
- Discussing your favourite book
- Learning what goes into making a book a good read, or not
- Meeting our visiting authors
- Writing your own stories, poems and more
Contact us to find out more.