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One of my goals for this year is to take advantage of more of the writing-related events in my area. I’ve been a member of the Saskatchewan Writers’ Guild for a couple of years now, and while I’ve attended a few of their events, there have been plenty of others that I should have made more of an effort to take in. I’m going to do my best to make sure that doesn’t happen this year.

The first event to catch my attention was Talking Fresh, a series of writing discussions held annually at the University of Regina. The event features a panel discussion on the Friday afternoon, followed on Saturday by individual talks led by each of the panelists. This year’s theme was Risk Band, focusing largely on the risks writers must take in their work.

I couldn’t make it to Friday’s panel discussion, but I was able to take in all of Saturday’s talks. Today, I want to give you an overview of what I learned.

What I learned

  • Be unashamed of not knowing, but want to know and try to know.
    • Basically, be open to learning and willing to take the risk of being wrong. Don’t choose not to include something just because you’re nervous about it, especially if it’s related to an important topic.
    • At the same time, though, remember to always be respectful of experiences, cultures, etc. that aren’t your own.
  • Risk honesty.
    • Say the things that scare you, the things that are hard for you to share or admit. Chances are, it also scares someone else.
  • When we face a blank page, we feel the same fear as we do when we face a lion–the fear of the unknown. (Or, “what’s going to happen to me?”)
    • Being in front of the blank page makes us vulnerable; we’re about to expose a part of ourselves.
  • A writing session has to have a set beginning and a set end. If you write for too long, the creativity dissipates.
  • Watch who you are and don’t fight it. If you write fast, then write fast. Don’t try to change to match the way someone else does things.
  • In a writing practice, you have to be willing to “let the animal swim up and show itself.”
    • We may think we know what the story is or where it’s going, but we’re often wrong.
  • Constraint can be good, but don’t suppress yourself or your voice.
    • Take the risk of speaking your language (in other words, your style). It may be what you grew up with, it may be what you now hear every day, or it may be some combination of both. You don’t have to stick with the same language as those who came before you, or that of those who you admire.
  • We’re sponges for many different kinds of discourse and dialect.
    • We’re all free to write as we wish, but we’re doing a disservice if we’re not willing to look at how doing things differently (for example, voicing a poem) can enhance our work.
    • All of these discourses and dialects shape how we write. Let this happen. Find your fit. Experiment.
  • Most of your writing will revolve around the 1,000 or so words your mind immediately goes to.
    • Don’t push too much to try to change this. You may think it’s dull, but others likely won’t.
  • Authenticity of yourself and your work can go a long way.
  • When getting first readers (for example, critique partners or beta readers), it’s helpful to get a range of readers with different experiences and backgrounds. It doesn’t have to be the same people for each piece you write.
  • It’s dangerous for just one person to represent a community (or culture, etc.). It’s important, therefore, to encourage young people to write.
  • Some stories from your community are too personal or connected to specific people to be used in fiction. These may be better for personal essays. Fictionalizing other stories, however, can help you to process them.

The speakers

The 4th Poet Laureate of Toronto (2012-15) and 7th Parliamentary Poet Laureate (2016-17), George Elliott Clarke is a revered poet. He has invented the term Africadian and pioneered the study of African-Canadian literature. His recognitions include the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Fellows Prize, the Governor-General’s Award for Poetry, the National Magazine Gold Award for Poetry, the Premiul Poesis (Romania), the Dartmouth Book Award for Fiction, the Eric Hoffer Book Award for Poetry (US), and the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Achievement Award. Clarke’s work is the subject of Africadian Atlantic: Essays on George Elliott Clarke (2012), edited by Joseph Pivato.

Sue Goyette lives in Halifax and has published five books of poems and a novel. Her latest collection is The Brief Reincarnation of a Girl (Gaspereau Press, 2015). She’s been nominated for several awards including the 2014 Griffin Poetry Prize and has won the CBC Literary Prize for Poetry, the Bliss Carman, the Pat Lowther, the J.M. Abraham Poetry Awards, and the 2015 Lieutenant Governor of Nova Scotia Masterworks Arts Award for her collection, Ocean. Sue currently teaches in the Creative Writing Program at Dalhousie University.

Eden Robinson is a Haisla/Heiltsuk author who grew up in Haisla, British Columbia. Her first book, Traplines, a collection of short stories, won the Winifred Holtby Memorial Prize and was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year in 1998. Monkey Beach, her first novel, was shortlisted for both The Giller Prize and the Governor General’s Literary Award for fiction in 2000 and won the BC Book Prize’s Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize. Her most forthcoming novel is Son of a Trickster.

Falen Johnson is Mohawk and Tuscarora from Six Nations (Bear Clan). She is a writer, dramaturge and actor. Her first play Salt Baby has been staged with Native Earth Performing Arts, Planet IndigenUS, The Next Stage Festival, Live Five, The Globe Theatre and has toured across the country. She is a former associate artist for Turtle Gals Performance Ensemble, and Native Earth. She is as well the former playwright in residence at Native Earth and Blyth Festival Theatre. She was the 2015 recipient of the OAC Emerging Aboriginal Artist Award. Her second play Two Indians was recently debuted at The SummerWorks Performance Festival.