Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Writers' Groups I Have Known: Part I, The WiER-ering

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Everything I know about editing, I learned from writers’ groups.

Well, okay, maybe not quite. I took a great copy-editing course at Ryerson a few years ago with an amazing instructor - part of their publishing certificate program - and have learned a tonne working as an editorial assistant at Groundwood Books from our senior editorial team since I started almost three years ago. But come on, it sounded pretty good, didn’t it?

Everything I know about self-editing, I learned from writers’ groups.

***

My first writers’ group, or at least the closest proximity I had to one as a kid, was the Writers In Electronic Residence (WiER) program that my middle school participated in when I was in grade seven.

My memory of the selection process is fuzzy, but I assume that I was granted admission to the program by virtue of my stellar record in English class (which, if you’ve read my previous WIR blog post, you’ll recognize as immediately suspect). We anxious student writers would post our work on a glorified message board once a week, and a real-live Canadian children’s author would provide gentle, supportive feedback on our writing.

The first poem I submitted contained only one plagiarized line (which was a record low for me, at the time) (and which was borrowed from the title of a pop-punk CD I’d found in the endless racks of Cheapo’s, now Sonic Boom).

A nervous week or so passed before I heard back from one of two authors who was assigned to our school group. I wish that I could say I remember what their exact feedback was - or even who the author was! - but I can only remember the feeling. A real-live Canadian children’s author had read my poem.

AND THEY LIKED IT.

I doubt that I could understate the affect that this particular event had on me. I felt recognized. Redeemed. Ushered into a hushed circle of literary excellence. Because of one stupid poem.

In later years I’d come to recognize the importance of deep, probing criticism and extensive rewrites, but at twelve I just wanted to know that there was someplace I might eventually belong. Online, or otherwise. That writing moody poetry all day long wasn’t a personality defect, but a way of reaching out and connecting with the world. WiER did that for me.

A quick google tells me that the program - which got its start in 1988 - was suspended at the end of 2013 due to government funding cutbacks. Which is a real shame. Despite the unfortunate acronym - which, due to an error with the company our school contracted to print its end-of-year participation ribbons, was just a bit too close to the label that most of the student participants wore anyway (WEIR) - it was my first taste of writerly community.

And it helped tide me over for the drought to come.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.