Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Writers' Groups I Have Known: Part II, The Dewburying

Share |

If you're just tuning in, I decided to wrap up my month as Open Book Toronto's Writer in Residence by paying tribute to the writers' groups I've been a part of that have helped get me where I am today.

Because if you, dear reader, take nothing else away from the nearly 10K (!) that I've written as this month's WIR, I hope it's that there is nothing more important for a writer than finding other writers who will tell you that what you're doing is no good. No good at all.

***

While every writers' group I've been a part of has taught me something, the group that I took part in at the end of my time at the University of Toronto is the one I give the most credit to for helping me develop my inner critic.

After years spent writing off and on without any kind of support or critique network, in 2009, during the last year of my undergrad, I applied on a whim to be part of a workshop facilitated by U of T's Writer in Residence. That year, the WIR was Christopher Dewdney, the award-winning poet and essayist. And, while I hadn't heard of him at the time, it sounded like a great opportunity - compounded by the fact that I was about to graduate, having done absolutely nothing of note or substance in the four years I'd been enrolled at the university.

(It's worth mentioning that this was back when I was still writing short fiction - before I figured out that my voice was a lot better suited to writing for kids and teens. That revelation was sort of a long time coming...)

Since co-founding the Toronto Zine Library in 2005, I'd been devoting most of my spare time to upkeep and outreach of the collection, and by 2009 I was ready for a change. I wanted to get back to writing, and I hoped that the group might inspire me to get back to work. So, when I received an email from Christopher Dewdney, letting me know that I'd been accepted into the workshop and inviting me to bring a piece of work to share to the first meeting, I was thrilled.

When the evening arrived, I anxiously grabbed a seat. My mild nerves turned quickly to full-on dread, though, when I realized that not everyone in the group had been instructed to bring work on that first day.

Nope.

Not everyone.

It was just me.

And at first I felt a swell of pride, that I had been the first one chosen to share. I handed my story around and the group quietly read it through. When everyone had had a chance to digest it, we started to talk about it. I smiled awkwardly down at my desk as the group praised my writing: a story about a young couple breaking up at the end of a long winter.

My cheeks burned as my fellow writers told me all of the things they liked about my work.

"Perfect," I thought to myself. "I am a gift to this room, the literary community at large, and, probably, the world as a whole. I am flawless. Pure magnificence. I am WRITER!"

Which of course ended pretty abruptly when the whole room started telling me exactly what was wrong with my story. Which, as it turned out, was everything.

And they were right. Of course they were. What had looked perfect in my eyes was revealed to be a sloppy work in progress with no particular end goal. I was going to have to rewrite it completely. But suddenly that idea felt exhilarating.

I walked out of the room that night feeling light. Like I had withstood some test of character and emerged victorious.

Because it turned out there was nothing better than being built up, torn down and then being handed the tools to rebuild.

I could make my story better.

And I would.

Better.
Faster.
Stronger.

Dance break!

The group had some high points:

When we first got together outside of the classroom, moving our meeting to a nearby pub and cementing that our group wasn't strictly curricular.

It had some low points:

The writer whose fiction, yes, was a lot more polished than most of ours was, but who also used any and every opportunity they could to make the rest of us feel like idiots.

It had some strange points:

That singer-songwriter Sarah Slean inexplicably showed up to our first meeting (her busy schedule precluded her from continuing to take part after that). And that a group of writers couldn't come up with a better name than the Dewburys. Still, it was an important time.

The group fell apart not long after most of us graduated, but, for me, it left a big mark. It helped me to appreciate creative community and the act of revision.

Revision.

And more revision.

Which was going to prove necessary later on.

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.