I’ve recently handed in my last assignment for The Writers Studio program at SFU. It’s been really challenging, but also very rewarding.
Somehow I signed up for this course without taking into consideration the time commitment. I sent in a portfolio of my work, got accepted and paid my tuition without really considering how much work it would be. There was a calendar of classes available online. It wasn’t until the orientation session that I realized that all of those classes were mandatory, that I would be in class two to three days per week, with homework eating up most of my free time. “Just tell your friends and family you’re in China for the year,” they said. Holy shit.
For such a short course it covers a lot of ground, from sessions about the neuroscience of creativity to giving readings to legal and ethical concerns to cross-genre workshops that force you to think outside your genre and try writing some science fiction or memoir. It’s led to some interesting experiences, like being able to read at the Vancouver Writers Fest, and I’ve made friends with some really interesting and talented people.
But I think that the experience of working closely with a mentor in a small group of poets is the thing that will stick with me most. I’ve been in writing classes before, and I’ve workshopped pieces with a group, but I’ve never had the experience of working with the same group for so long. Getting a cold read from people who don’t know you is one thing. It’s completely different to get feedback from people who have taken the time to get to know you and who are willling to be straight with you about what does and does not work. It took a while to get there and there were definitely some misunderstandings on the way, but the longer duration of the class ensured that we had the time to build that trust. They’re all really lovely people and as a group we’ve become really close.
Our mentor, Betsy Warland, had the insight to figure out exactly the kind of feedback we each needed to move forward. For me, it was the fact that I need to spend more time sitting with topics that are challenging or uncomfortable, and mostly I just need to write more and actually finish things. At our first consult early on in the year I made the mistake of bringing in a selection of old poems and she basically said these are fine but where’s your new stuff? She then told me that she wanted ten new poems sent to her in a week’s time. That assignment felt like it would kill me. I have never written that fast in my life.
Her support and feedback pushed me to write into some new territory and become way more disciplined in my writing. I hope I can continue that momentum.