On Writing and Friendships

I’ve never been comfortable sharing my work.

Writing has always been a release for me, a place where I dig deep inside my mind and put those words to paper.

It’s like an escape. When I’m not going for a run (which I wish I could be most of the time, staring out my classroom windows to the beautiful balmy January we’re having in Victoria) I write down the thoughts swirling in my head to paper. 

I’ve kept a diary dating back to elementary school, and would always write daily recaps of my day each night.

When I came to UVic and the Writing department, however, and realized I would start to share some of my ideas and thoughts to a group of peers in a ‘workshop’ setting, I panicked.

For those not in writing, or familiar with the workshop process, it’s a small group of usually 13 to 16 people all in your specific genre who offer peer feedback in your submitted work.

Say your class is on a Monday. You would bring printed copies of your assignment for all the people in your class, and the next Monday you would sit quiet while the group talks about the positives and offer constructive feedback to improve and strengthen your piece.

Otherwise known as the most stressful 30 minutes of my life. 

I remember my first workshop class last year. I dreaded the class all week, and when it was finally time for my assignment to be workshopped, I couldn’t control my nerves.

I started to break out in a sweat, my legs bounced up and down uncontrollably, I felt like I was going to throw up. I was working myself up so much that I failed to listen to the many positives the group had of my screenplay draft, and instead focused on the negatives.

It’s a major problem I have in my life. I always want people to like me, and I’ll go out of my way to appease others. So when I hear some people having problems with my pieces, I put myself down and think they don’t like me as a person. I don’t tell myself that the group, honestly, wants to help me become a better writer and have a stronger piece. I dwell on the negatives.

A teacher filling in for a workshop last semester told us a story about her experience workshopping. She asked a fellow writing friend for advice to lead a workshop, and her friend said, “Ah, the bloodbath.”

But she disagreed. Creative Non-Fiction workshops are about as far from a bloodbath as you can get. The stories are true, about real people, and issues that affect them. It’s not like a fiction piece, where the stories and characters are made up. When you’re offering feedback it’s important to think of the author and respect the experience they endured. 

It’s a message that resonated with me. It’s why, after two years of workshopping, the classes have turned into my favourite of the week.

I’ve been fortunate enough to workshop with the same group (give or take a few people) in CNF workshops for the past two years, and reading their work makes me feel like I’m getting to know them better. 

It’s like they are allowing me into their diary, and catching a glimpse of the pivotal moments in life that have shaped them today. It’s truly special, and hard to explain unless you’ve been in that workshop setting.

I feel lucky to have found UVic’s Creative Writing program. It’s not only allowed me to become a better writer or editor, but a better human being.

The writing community is, yes, a small and niche group of people. But it’s one that has the biggest hearts out there, and I’ll challenge anyone about it.

The workshop setting is sweet, friendly, and caring. Every person wants to help you become a better writer, learn your experiences, and help strengthen them into a stronger piece. It’s helped me become comfortable sharing my work, beyond just my parents.

University is just a four or five year window in our lives, but the friendships we develop in that time will carry with us forever. Storytelling, bonding over the same message, and inspiring a generation is something we all want to do. That’s what I hope to carry with me, forever.

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