On Writing · Writing Life

Humber Summer Workshop Reflections: One Year Later

 

This heart. I sketched this heart while I was sitting in a session nearing the end of the Humber School for Writers Summer Workshop almost to the day – one year ago. My heart is full thinking of the tremendous week I experienced. Still – one year later – my heart is full.

I can barely believe it’s been a whole year since I attended this extraordinary week of writing.

I don’t have any butterflies left in my belly that were a-flutter during that week…I can’t say there is any of the anxiety about going…or worry about leaving my family for the longest I’d ever left them…those feelings that so strongly embraced me are no longer alive…what I feel is a grand sense of accomplishment. I did it. We did it.

I’m getting tweets from folks who are taking the summer workshop right now. Like, this week. They are inspiring me to reflect again on how the workshop impacted me…and the others in our group.

Three of the people in our writing group are back – this time as volunteers for the workshop. That should tell you something about the impact the week had on them.

One of them continued onward and is taking (or has recently completed!) the certificate program that pairs you with a writing mentor to guide you through the completion of your writing project.

Nearly everyone in our group has been consistently submitting their work. One was long-listed for a big Canadian writing award. Another has a series on youtube that just got the go-ahead for a second season. Me, well, the work I did during our workshops morphed into a collection of poetry about my Nonna that will be published in 2021.

Everyone in our group continues to write consistently.

And we have all stayed connected over email (at least – we’ve even met up for book launches and other workshops).

I have a phone call at least every other week (goddess willing!) with the gal who was our volunteer. She is a friend-for-life. And we constantly share our writing experiences/projects with each other and support each other’s writing dreams.

I think I can speak for everyone in our group when I say that it was truly a life-changing experience. Each of us had breakthroughs in our writing lives. And we continue to share our writing woots and woes with each other.

I believe it’s because of the foundation for friendships that we built during those crazy-packed and emotionally wild days at the workshop. This foundation was built on a shared love of writing. Of words. Of learning about writing and creativity and how we can bloom when we write.

If you read THIS, you’ll see how I was feeling the first few days of the workshop.

If you read THIS, you’ll see how I was feeling nearing the end of the workshop.

The following was part of a post I wrote that asks some pretty heavy questions. I’d like to take the opportunity to answer these questions – as the writer who I am today – one year later.

Essentially, the big question is: can I write with such a freedom from everything I’ve been telling myself I need to do as a ‘writer’…from everything I’ve learned and decided to accept into my process and voice?
The honest truth is yes and no. At the time…within two months of having completed the workshop, I was high on all that I learned and on the influx of confidence I felt as a writer. When I wrote the manuscript about my Nonna…I did write with a new freedom. The freedom came in a quieting of my writer’s mind. I was able to clearly hear the words of the poetry. I was able to write with Kyo’s (Maclear, our group teacher) soft voice guiding me into a creative energy that was patient, kind and compassionate. This was a new part of my process – a part that I learned I could have because I attended the workshop and was able to begin this practice as I sat to table with our group.
Alas, I do still struggle very much with process…the voices in my head return at full volume and lead me away from clean writing. Clean writing – that is – writing with a quiet mind that is focused and kind to the words. In these last couple of months, life has been full with many writerly goings-on, but I have not given myself the gift of time to write cleanly. And I can feel it. It sits in my centre like an Indiana Jones-esque booby-trap boulder…about to drop and crush my writing soul…Dramatic, yes, but true.
If I let it go…and step (or run) away – will what’s left be ‘me’ anymore?
Absolutely it is still ‘me’. What’s incredible about a writer’s process is that it is fluid…flexible…able to bend and stretch…able to shift and, wait for it – CHANGE. Letting go…giving yourself the possibility of newness in process or even genre of writing, is a benefit that doesn’t take away from ‘me’ but allows my writing to cultivate and bloom differently. That is all good for the writing.
How can I break the rules without losing part(s) of my creative heart?
One of the main take-aways from the workshop for me was ‘break the rules’. This pertains to my own writer’s process ‘rules’ that I’d been writing under for years as well as the big-picture/industry rules that are constantly slapping us around. Break. The. Rules. This means – step outside your creative comfort zone. This means shift your writing genre. This means play with structure. This means create a new way to tell a story. This means open your creative heart – and even if it breaks a little, it is still a necessary and beautiful expansion of your writing life. It is not a loss, but a gain in galavanting into new creative landscapes that may not have been discovered before. It is a re-inventing of the wheel. Why not? Why can’t it be?
When it comes to what I’m writing – the subject matter, the emotions, the truths, the lies…the history…the knowings and the fears, am I not also giving myself and the words a kind of permission to fly away from what ‘family’ is supposed to be/mean? That structure and form of human interaction?
This question directly related to the subject matter of what I was writing about during the workshop. But really, everything I write about is a blend of emotion, truth, lies, history, fear….all the goodies. Yes – a permission to fly away from the meanings and ‘rules’ that we create or that exist – permission to try new things, permission to re-examine old ways of believing or processes that work well or don’t….permission to run hard and jump up into the sky…to search for the cloud nine of writing…and the clouds before and beyond that show us the extraordinary worlds that words can create.
As I redefine what ‘family’ means to me and I express it through the written word – I am also restructuring how it looks and feels on the page.
The words match the magic of flying.
It’s a complete coming undone.
Can I do that?
Do I know how?
What are the consequences?
What will it do to my body and soul?
How will it happen in Time and space?

Indeed. It is a complete coming undone. If that’s what the story entails. Or it’s a complete revival, revision, reimagining. Or it’s all of it. Can I do it? You bet. Do I know how? I do as I do it. The consequences? Well…the answer to this, I have to say, is related to the coming undone. There are consequences to re-defining what family means. There are consequences to writing my truth that will not match the truth of someone else. But that is part of being a writer. Learning how to write…to come undone if that is what’s needed…so to re-build a foundation that will withstand the consequences.

What does it do to my body and soul? Sometimes it makes me sick. I get nervous, scared, anxious…and I need to take a break. My soul really leads the way in this regard. But a writer must pay attention to what is happening to her body as she writes. A writer’s body is fully engaged in the story…in the words. If you’re writing about death or darkness, you feel it in your body. If you’re writing about sex and love – you feel it in your body too. It all shows up somewhere in your body – so pay attention and take care. It will happen in time and space in the way that you create it. This is perhaps the most difficult part for me…I am working on making my own writing a priority.

My post-workshop reflections from one year ago are HERE.

I think very fondly of our time at the Humber Summer Workshop. It was a lot of really hard work. There was a lot of reading. A lot of writing. A lot of critiquing and listening and learning. But it was all so important. So inspiring. Some of it was frustrating…embarrassing…Sometimes I felt like my confidence was crawling on the floor into a dark corner while others I felt my life’s purpose to be a writer standing tall and proud centre-stage. It was fun. It was exhausting. It was incredible. It was so very important for my writing life.

Thank you Kyo and the writers in our precious group. Thank you David and Ariadna and the HSW team.

To those writers in the thick of it now – work hard, write hard, read hard – take it all in. Be overwhelmed, but embrace the freedom in all there is to learn. Break the rules. Write like your heart has wings. I’ll see you on the other side.

 

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