Society

The writing table

How GTA writing groups are sparking community resilience

Writing is considered an activity that thrives in solitude. It requires the writer to focus on what they’re putting down on the page. 

The author puts in the work of creating a story and therefore deserves for it to be heard. This is why writing groups aim to bring communities together and strengthen their connection through collaborative writing exercises and events.

One thing every writer needs is consistency so their skills can develop. But being consistent is challenging when no one is holding the writer accountable. Writing groups can be beneficial for this for any writer, regardless of their experience level.

Chris Fraser, the founder of Firefly Creative Writing, says, “Writing is intrinsically difficult and hard to get back to, especially these days when our attention spans are tiny and there’s so many demands on our time that it just feels better to do it with other people. It keeps us accountable and keeps us connected.”

Writing groups are inclusive and aim to support communities that are often silenced. 

Lauren Kirshner, an Assistant Professor in the department of English at Toronto Metropolitan University and the founder of Sister Writes, says,  “There’s a long history of women’s voices being suppressed, especially women who are marginalized because of race, class, disability, gender or sexual expression. I wanted to create a program that would support the wisdom and experience of women whose voices and stories were marginalized.”

Breaking down barriers that exclude marginalized individuals can create a sense of belonging and ensure all voices are heard. 

“Everybody deserves a space to write, and there’s so much barrier built into our everyday lives and into the systems that we’ve just gotten used to,” says Fraser, “We’re all wounded, we’re all bringing our own stuff to any space and the more that we can figure out how to take down the barriers, the more people it’s for.

Writing groups replace systems that restrict accessibility so all people are welcome to contribute. However, it’s still difficult to get people to break out of their shell. 

“It’s nerve-wracking to share writing. Always. Newcomers to the program often feel anxious about exposing themselves or being judged negatively. This is especially true for folks who have had negative experiences in the education system. Sometimes, people are afraid of not sounding ‘writerly’ enough,” says Kirshner.

Writing groups help new members contribute to collaborative writing exercises. They do so by creating a safe and welcoming environment for that particular community. One example is the BIPOC writing workshop dynamic in Firefly Creative Writing. In this workshop, they focus on writing about topics like white supremacy and microaggressions while creating a safe physical environment. 

Fraser says, “It’s very important to us that there’s spaces that are just created for and by BIPOC individuals. That it’s not necessarily about what the writing prompts are, it’s just having a space that’s outside of whiteness and the assumption of whiteness.”

Writing groups also understand what appropriate feedback is and is not. “To ease into the workshop process, we read stories by diverse women writers and start developing a shared vocabulary about characterization, setting, dialogue, description and other craft issues that prepares us to talk about each other’s stories in a craft-focused way. This ensures that feedback stays focused on the writing, not the writer,” says Kirshner.

Fraser realizes that collaborating with various community members requires resisting the urge to compare one’s work. By doing this, authentic connection will no longer be hidden behind competitiveness.

“I think one of the huge waterslides that creative environments can find themselves swooshing down is competitiveness or ego or critique. We all come at writing with so much tenderness and insecurity that it’s easy to flip that into being critical of ourselves and of each other,” says Fraser. “So, we really insist on holding people in a place that’s not critical.”

Writing groups equip their members with more than just writing skills. They also give individuals the confidence and resources to share their stories. 

So far, Sister Writes has published 10 magazines about women’s stories. 

“One of the misconceptions about community creative writing programs is that the writing they produce is unpolished and the magazine’s unattractive or hastily slapped together. Our goal has always been to challenge this stereotype with our magazines, which we strive to make beautiful and interesting,” says Kirshner.

The writer gains confidence in their writing ability and their voice beyond the words on the page. Bringing confidence through writing is a useful tool to overcome hardships. It can be used whenever it’s necessary—around or away from the writing table.

About the author

Reporter at Youth Mind

Grace Nelson-Gunness is a reporter for Youth Mind. She enjoys watching Criminal Minds or reading a suspenseful horror-thriller novel while drinking a vanilla latte.

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