Milestones in a Writing Career.

A comment on my blog caused me to start thinking about what the milestones have been around my life as a writer. In this post, I focus on workshops and retreats. I haven't included workshops I have subsequently taken through the Writers' Union around publishing, promotion, etc. Nor have I commented on the writing group I joined in 2005, something I hadn't previously thought would be helpful (how wrong I was). Nor the many single workshops I took at Humber School for Writers prior to attending a concentrated workshop in the summer of 2006. Perhaps I will write about them another day. In the meantime, I recognize they were all important, but my focus today is on workshops and retreats.

One has to be serious about one's work and have a body of work that one creates in solitude, but workshops and the community and feedback that flow from them have been critical in moving me forward and in providing milestone experiences. I also benefited from the Writer in Residence program at the University of Toronto in the 1970s when Adele Wiseman was the writer when I was a mature student at the university for a year. We became friends as well as colleagues and encouraged each other until her death in 1992. I consulted writers in residence through the Toronto Public Library as well on more than one occasion, including Austin Clarke, Janis Rapoport and Lyn Hamilton.

Note: I would be interested in other writers' comments/reflections on their experiences. The following are some of mine.

Workshop. York University, Toronto. 1970s. The writer who facilitated the group I attended was Austin Clarke who paced the front of the classroom like a caged lion. Then suddenly he would impart some pearl. I recall the phrase, 'The Fear of Invention.' It had a profound impact on me as I struggled to put stories together. On the other hand, this was the first time I had some external validation from a writer who was already established that I could write, too. I had taken one course at McGill University in the 1950s with Constance Beresford-Howe where I didn't experience validation of what I wrote then, nor did my work yet deserve it, but I did read wonderful books. In the years since, I have reread two novels in particular, Virginia Woolf's To The Lighthouse and Ethel Wilson's Swamp Angel, which still strike me as jewels.

Writers Retreat at Bracebridge, Ontario. 1980s. Sponsored and supported by the Writers' Trust a group of writers of both fiction and non fiction gathered at a lodge on a lake near Bracebridge for two weeks. This time was magical, an opportunity to work without distractions, to eat good meals in the company of other writers and to converse with colleagues in the evenings if one chose to do so. I was fortunate to meet writers such as Isabel Huggan, Jean McKay and Betty Jane Wylie while at this retreat. And to discover that there is a special way of being for writers in such an environment, a way of moving through the scenery with a dream like expression that might portend a poem, of taking a canoe out on the lake to let one's thoughts flow through at the same time as one paddles along the shore.Ways of being I took for granted in myself, but didn't usually find in friends in other fields.

Banff Centre for the Arts. Alberta. 1992. Adele Wiseman encouraged me to go to Banff where she was the Director of the Writing Program. Unfortunately she was unable to be there because of illness and died that spring. Edna Alford and Marilyn Bowering were the two writers I worked with over the six week period I was at Banff, working on Ile d'Or, a novel that was ultimately published in 2010. This workshop was a turning point in many ways. I worked with writers from across the country, for the first time participating in a group of other writers where I was also accepted as such. Mavis Gallant was the special guest for two weeks in the middle of the program and I had the privilege of an hour with her when we discussed her life as a writer and mine also. It was exciting and inspiring.During the two weeks Gallant moved among us, but this opportunity for a conversation with her on my own was a moment I still cherish.

University of New Brunswick. Fredericton. 1997. Writing Workshop. One week with Ann Copeland as facilitator. I worked on short fiction at this workshop. I chose to go because I'd heard the program was a good one, but also as an opportunity to spend time in Fredericton. After the workshop I went to St. Andrews by the Sea to meet friends with whom I drove up through New Brunswick to Riviere du Loup on the St. Lawrence in Quebec. At this workshop, I met people like Nino Ricci and Janet Lunn as well as the Acquisitions Editor, Laurel Boone, from Goose Lane Publishing. I had had much correspondence with Ms. Boone and it was a treat to meet her and speak in person.

Humber School for Writers. Toronto. 2006. At this week long workshop in July, I was assigned, much to my delight, to the group who would work with Alistair McLeod. I had decided when I retired from doing other work that it was time to work towards seeing books published. Over the years many short stories had been. So I submitted the first chapter of Ile d'Or in its latest version to this workshop. After the workshop, the book that was published first (in 2007) was a collection of short stories, One Day It Happens. At Humber, I learned from Alistair McLeod that he had accepted two of my short stories, ten years apart, for publication in the University of Windsor Review. Somehow this tied together many parts of writing experience and I felt the courage and confidence again to continue submitting my work. In the next three years, I had two books published. The short story collection, One Day It Happens, and finally, the novel, Ile d'Or. And now, I am working on others!

Posted on August 9, 2011 .