Group launched for closet writers

November 04, 2004, vol. 31, no. 5
By Carol Thorbes

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They came in larger than expected numbers from all corners of Simon Fraser University's campus. They are closet creative writers - mostly staff and some faculty - who crave release and cultivation of their creative energy.

About 25 of them packed a meeting to explore forming an informal writers' group. Its purpose: to nurture the urge to write creatively in a non-competitive setting.

Wendy Strachan, the director of SFU's centre for writing-intensive learning (CWIL), and Adrienne Burk, a CWIL faculty member, organized the meeting.

They were recently inspired by the arrival of acclaimed poet and novelist Daphne Marlatt on campus as SFU's first writer in residence in three decades.

“We thought what a great gift for students. Why not do something to help faculty and staff explore their creative writing potential and overcome impediments?” says Strachan. “There are a lot of faculty and staff who secretly like to play with language in a non-academic way. They read novels and poetry voraciously.”

Three invited local writers, Cynthia Flood, Carolyn Mamchur, and Marlatt, talked about their writing experiences and trade secrets at the first meeting. About 12 people met again, a week later, to get serious about networking - incognito of course.

“Writing creatively is a sacred and internal process that one is often afraid to let colleagues know about for fear of being ridiculed,” says one scientist. “Creative writing is actually as important to me as scientific research. I've been writing stories for 20 years.”

Others willing to talk anonymously confessed that a never-ending list of commitments prevented them from following their creative heart.

“Writing is as necessary as breathing to me, and I am lucky I get to write in my job,” says one researcher, “but life's responsibilities have eaten away at the time I used to spend writing poetry.”

“My intent was to have a regular job to finance a writing career, but instead the regular job took over my life,” laments a staff member. “I regard this as my last chance to spark my creative embers.”

A number of frustrated writers said that they want to be held accountable for submitting work for constructive review, and they would provide the same service in return.

In future, two groups of participants will meet monthly at different times.

They will refine guidelines for sharing, critiquing and offering tips about creative writing through electronic exchanges and face-to-face sessions.

The groups can access a number of resources, including books on writing in different genres, through CWIL faculty. A Christmas potluck will enable them to share readings and progress reports.

For more information about this clandestine incubation of creative writing, contact Strachan: 604-291-3122,

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