An annual practice of gratitude – cheers to 2022!

Happy New Year! To put my best foot forward in 2023 and maybe throw a little positive karma out into the universe, I wanted my first post in this new year to be a sincere “thank you” to all of the creative people who supported my writing practice and made up my writing community in 2022.

  1. The Canty Collective of Writerly Women was born out of a virtual Sage Hill emerging writers cohort guided by Micheline Maylor and Tariq Hussain in a peak of the pandemic in July 2020. A portion of the class met before a public reading to practice reading our pieces for feedback, and that organically snowballed into a small group of six spanning from the rural Yukon across the western prairies to Ontario that meets virtually monthly to workshop our poetry, fiction, and memoir projects.

    I am grateful to this group of women for providing accountability for my writing practice, inspiring me to try out different genres and forms, being understanding when my chronic migraines cause me to bail on meetings last minute, and being supportive of my writing grievances and accomplishments. To boot, their work is all so varied and interesting, and I can’t recommend that you read it enough.

    Kayleigh Cline
    Leah Schnurr
    Louise Dumayne
    Melanie Trickers.j. Shalgaire
  2. Rachel Thompson’s Writerly Love Community is a subscription-based membership I’ve had since this past summer, and I highly recommend it! Rachel Thompson and Meli Walker work so hard to engage the community on Slack, and hold themselves accountable to make it a safe space for everyone. The programming has included everything from platform-building to generating new work, a virtual book club, quarterly writing workshops, and a plethora of other tools I’m probably missing. The community appears to be primarily made up of women and non-binary writers, with solid representation from poets and memoirists in particular!

    I am grateful to Rachel and Meli for their extra support these past few months, and to all of the wonderful writers who’ve offered me feedback on my work, offered helpful advice in the Slack community, and have commiserated and celebrated along with me throughout the year.
  3. The Two Peas Writing Pod is a teeny writing group comprised of myself and my good friend from university, Tanisha Khan. Our coffeeshop dessert-devouring writing and venting sessions are so cathartic and I look forward to them each month!

    I am grateful for this supportive friendship with gentle accountability, aggressive support and hype of each other, and a shared love of our human and feline children.
  4. The Saskatchewan Festival of Words is a writing and reading festival hosted each July in my hometown of Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan since I was one year old. I’ve attended since I was a tiny teenager, and since moving away from Moose Jaw, it’s become this lovely summer homecoming to return to the historic downtown area where I worked for many summers, soak in some great readings and workshops, visit with family, and visit my favourite haunts (aka Bobby’s on High Street for Salt N Malts and Poppers, and our beautiful public library).
    I am grateful for the work Sarah, Amanda, their team, and their board of directors do. This event is always a highlight of my writing year.
  5. The League of Canadian Poets’ Parent Poets Committee is a new volunteer commitment this year, and it is such a remarkable group. Despite all being busy parents juggling work, writing, parenthood, and too many other responsibilities to name, they all have so many great ideas to provide support to other parent poets. I am looking forward to getting to know this group more in 2023!
  6. Having finished up my first full calendar year as a board member for the Saskatchewan Writers’ Guild, it played a big part in my writing year! The staff are so efficient and passionate about what they do, and pivoted swiftly to continue to provide quality programming throughout the pandemic. The board is made up of so many different writers and professionals, and as a rookie board member and emerging writer and professional, I have selfishly benefitted from volunteering alongside them and soaking up their experience. I am grateful to all of these folks, plus the members and instructors I’ve met in workshops and at conferences, who’ve taught me new things throughout 2022.

    The guild unfortunately lost a valuable team member at the end of 2022, as Financial Manager Jacqueline Fry passed away quite suddenly. I only met Jacquie a handful of times in virtual meetings, but I am grateful for the reliable and quality work she did for the organization, and for the positive impact she had on those who knew her much better than I. My sincere condolences to the SWG Team and all of Jacquie’s loved ones for this loss.
  7. Finally, and most importantly, I am grateful to my parents and to my fiancé for their support of me and my writing! They give me more hype than I could have ever earned, and are always willing to expand their comfort zone to accompany me at odd writing events.

    Thank you to you as well, dear reader. Whether you’re reading this out of boredom, interest, spite, or intrigue, I’m happy to have a reader at all. Wishing you the absolute best year, and if 2023 turns out to be more challenging than expected, I wish you all the resiliency and strength you need to see things through for another year.

Scarcity mindset

Photo by Adrien Olichon:

An author business plan sent me spiralling into an existential crisis. Well, that may be a bit hyperbolic, but it did have me questioning the point of my writing practice.

Let me back up a bit — I thought I’d practice what I preach in my day job and start drafting an author business plan for my writing work. I’m well aware that writing in itself is often not very profitable, and my usual medium of choice, poetry, is perhaps the least profitable of them all. That being said, I see the value in organization and goal setting, and the most successful authors I know have a clear and well-researched understanding of who their readers are, what their readers want, and how to reach those people, so I figured it was about time I sit down and start doing my own research.

I found a template online that I thought would be a good starting point, as it mirrored a lot of key points I’ve heard reiterated in various creative business plan workshops over the past year. In the Audience Research section there’s a point that asks you what differentiates your work and sets you apart from other writers in the world. Cue: spiral.

Perhaps I’m jaded, or perhaps I’m realistic, but I don’t think anything about my writing is unique. I don’t think anything about anyone’s writing is unique, or set apart, or in a class of its own. No matter how novel I think a poem or plot of mine is, I guarantee there are thousands of other writers from a similar age, gender, class, and race demographic that are writing incredibly similar poems and stories about motherhood and murder and niche historical fictionalization poems and so on. And if that’s the case, if no one is ever really contributing anything new, why create at all?

I sat on this thought for a few days, possible retorts to my own question pinballing around in my head. The answer, or at least an answer that would satisfy my building anxiety and halt the spiral, popped up yesterday evening when I attended a few different arts events in Regina.

At a stakeholder event for folks in the book publishing space, I had the chance to meet with many great local professionals, but in particular spent a lot of time chatting with someone who was both a publisher and a writer themself. They posed the same question the business plan template had in musing: in a market so saturated, why spend so much time toiling over the works they create? The answer became immediately apparent as they continued to speak of the excitement and pride of seeing one of their books showcased at an international book fair, and the anticipation of the next step and the next promotion project for upcoming titles. There is something hugely rewarding in putting a good project out in the world, and inching forward to the next step and milestone.

Later the same evening, I was fortunate to be in attendance at a private screening of a new local film. In the Q & A segment following the screening, that same kombucha-bubble feeling of pure joy and satisfaction at creating something new and good was clear. Despite the long hours over the span of a few years that went into development, production, and post, and the impediment of the pandemic, the sense of pride, happiness, and relief at completing a project about to enter the public creative world seemed to be worth it in the end.

When I think back about those scenarios of accomplishment — of a publisher seeing their book internationally showcased, of a cast and crew coming together to launch a film into the world, or even of seeing my own little poems make public appearances in lit mags and readings, I know I’ve found my answer to “Why bother?”. Why wouldn’t you want more good and great art in the world? Why wouldn’t you want more of that satisfaction, joy, and accomplishment?

There’s a lot of scarcity in this world, to say the least. Scarcity of necessities and resources, but also scarcity in superfluous things. Yes, I stress about what I’ll do when my discontinued ABH Master Palette by Mario eyeshadow palette runs out, or when cranberry gingerale is discontinued for the season each Christmas. But at least I never have to worry about running out of things to make, art to enjoy, or whether or not my favourite book genre will be returning next holiday season. Even if I never do anything shockingly new or novel, I’m still one of the many creators throwing good work and good intentions out in the world, ensuring good writing and good art will never be scarce.

So, spiral=complete. Question=answered. Back to the business plan.

Retreat at St. Peter’s Abbey, November 11-14, 2021

I was in one of many Microsoft Teams video meetings at work when a Gmail notification lit up my phone. I glanced down and quickly gleaned from the pop-up email preview that I’d made it off the waitlist, and could attend the Facilitated Retreat with poet and writer Katherine Lawrence in Muenster, Saskatchewan. I was so excited I had to mask my facial expression on the call, and waited impatiently to open up the email after the meeting and dive into the details. I immediately replied with an enthusiastic yes, thinking yes, please, let me go! I need out of here!

I realize it may sound a bit silly to be *that* excited for a few days out of the city for snack-sized writing retreat, but ever since COVID hit I have the utmost appreciation for days off, time away from the city, and time away from my beloved family. Located in South Central Saskatchewan in the sprawling metropolis of Regina, the farthest I’ve travelled during this pandemic was to Cypress Hills to camp, to Swift Current for an outdoors visit with my grandmother, and to Saskatoon for a few short weekend getaways (and to get engaged!). Three and a half days away from the usual chaos that is any family household now had the same appeal as a week in Hawaii. I’d been struggling to find the space to write, and this retreat would offer exactly that.

This wasn’t my first time at the rodeo having attended a similar retreat by the same Saskatchewan Writers’ Guild in 2019, so I came prepared. Snacks, yoga mat, spare cables, spare paper, a roster of craft and poetry books, and a set to-do list. I had firm plans to work on a 1920’s era Moose Jawvian poetry project in the mornings cranking out first drafts, and to work on my gothic mystery NaNoWriMo novel in the afternoons, but as per usual, my plans changed promptly.

For whatever reason, being back at the abbey amidst the solitude of a first solid snow had me in a pious mood. I found myself drifting away from my flappers and rum runners and drifting into nostalgic retrospectives of childhood church experiences and elegies of familial matriarchs and patron saints. I cranked out several hundred words for my Nano novel, but mostly wrapped myself away in Cathedral music, VeggieTales nostalgia, and helpfully prescribed poetry edits.

Working with Katherine Lawrence was so, so lovely! (If by odd chance you happen to read this Katherine, thank you!) To be able to sit down, have someone with so much experience look at my older pieces with fresh eyes, and have her offer me some golden reading recommendations tailored to my projects was so helpful. I devoured Carolyn Smart’s Careen (a poetry page-turner about Bonnie and Clyde) and Sarah Venart’s I Am the Big Heart (a poetry collection of domesticity, grief, and parenthood) while at the retreat, and sent out dozens of library hold requests to procure once home on Sunday. We also worked line by line through an elegy I’d written that weekend for my partner’s grandmother, a remarkable lady I did not meet until later on in her battle with dementia.

The weekend wrapped up with a reading by all of the writers in attendance. Retreats are always so interesting, as you are thrown together with writers from different backgrounds that you might not normally meet otherwise. Sure, Saskatchewan is small, but depending on where you work or where you live, you might not ever run into folks otherwise! Though a very short weekend, you do get to know everyone, their projects, their reading preferences, and their personalities through shared meals and evening social time. I had some warm discussions about shared step-mother experiences and mutual fangirl-level adoration for Miriam Toews’ Women Talking, and it gave me a huge boost after having been in limited, mostly digital social circles for well over a year.

I think that the fact that I’m only writing and posting this a whole month later shows just how little writing time I’ve managed to squeeze in since the retreat. I have lofty goals and mighty fine intentions: I edit poems on my lunch break, I send out submissions when I beat the rest of my family home from school and work, and I’ve agreed to writing and workshop dates with friends and my writing group. Still, the holiday season, migraines, and just being an adult with responsibilities chips away at that writing time. I am patient with myself and my schedule limitations though, and look forward to carrying the notes, ideas, and plans I made at the retreat into my writing practice in the new year.