Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Notes from "Re-imagining the Past" by Mary Novik

From Workshop to Writing Group

Leading a workshop for the Writers' Trust last night ("Re-imagining the Past," April 20, 2009) has made me reflect again about the struggle that emerging writers face.

As new writers, we embark on a writing project full of enthusiasm and ideas, but soon discover that the path is strewn with hurdles that we aren't yet capable of jumping. Or we find ourselves at a crossroads with no clue which path to choose. We don't even know which metaphor to pick--cinder track or impenetrable forest. The whole process has ground to a halt. Why is writing so impossibly complicated? It was supposed to be fun, a real ego boost, but we are already confused and depressed. Dare we call this writer's block? No--we haven't even got enough guts to call ourselves "writers" yet.

When I began writing fiction, I worked on one book for several years only to put it aside. Then I started Conceit , my novel about Pegge, the daughter of the 17th-century poet John Donne. I worked on it for a year until I was struck by the sheer enormity of what I had undertaken. I knew I needed help to keep going. In a workshop for new novelists, I was fortunate to meet Jen Sookfong Lee and June Hutton. Highly motivated, we made a commitment to stick together until we'd completed our debut novels. Over the years, we've helped one another evolve from unpublished to emerging to published novelists. Jen's The End of East (Knopf) and my Conceit (Doubleday) came out in 2007, and June's Underground (Cormorant Books) has just been published. After seven years, we are still together and working on sophomore novels. We now have agents and editors to guide us professionally, but we meet regularly to down a bottle of wine and buoy one another up.

The trick to forming a writing group is to find writers working in the same genre who share the same commitment. Different ages and backgrounds don't seem to matter as much. Workshops, such as the ones offered by the Writers' Trust, are excellent places to network in the hope of finding writing partners. It might begin as easily as raising a glass together, as we did at the Subeez after our workshop last night. If you hit it off, you'll soon be encouraging one another to read at open mics, swapping manuscripts, and jumping hurdles together.

Mary Novik at Subeez in Vancouver
April 20, 2009
Photo Credit: Heidi Greco


Heidi Greco's blog about last night's workshop at Out on the Big Limb

SPiN Writing Group websites:,,,

"Raising gems, together: How three Canadian writers banded together to help each other bring their first novels into the world", by June Hutton, Jen Sookfong Lee, and Mary Novik, Tuesday Essay, The Globe and Mail on-line, February 24, 2009.

"Writing Group Makes Good," article on SPiN writing group by Sarah Treleaven in Quill & Quire, March 2007, p. 7.

Selected Resources:

Writers' Trust of Canada, and

Places for Writers,

The Writers' Union of Canada,

The Canadian Authors' Association,

Booming Ground,