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Writing is usually a solitary pursuit – just you and your imagination. Like a kid armed with a small shovel and bucket, standing on that expanse of sun-burned beach, a writer sits down to paper or keyboard facing a vast blankness filled with undiscovered possibilities. The trick is uncovering those possibilities.

An online search for “writing groups in greater Toronto area” takes .36 seconds to return 8,220,000 results. Of course, not all of them are relevant to the type of writing you have an interest in, but isn’t it nice to know that you’re not alone?

I’ve been a writer since the age of six, when the nuns of St. Anthony’s convent handed me a straight pen. My first story was called “Whiffy the Skunk’, penned for my younger brothers. My day jobs all involved technical, policy or legal writing – not a lot of creativity required. I first joined a writing/critique group in the mid-90s, after completing a course at Ryerson. We’d meet weekly at the session-leader’s house.

Belonging to a group stimulated my creativity and self-editing. The critiquing was essential, because it motivated me to hone and prune for readability. However, it became clear that many of my fellow scribes were more interested in the social and ‘sharing’ aspects than practicing writing. I was hooked, though, and began submitting articles and stories for publication. Having joined several other writers’ circles over the years, I’ve discovered a pattern – some folks aren’t serious about writing. They stop producing new work. They recycle old pieces or just offer critiques, which is a downside of groups without a focus, rules or structure.

I confess: I’m a prolific, but undisciplined writer. Casual meetings weren’t doing it for me. This year, I signed up for A Novel Approach, a 52 week program of bi-weekly meetings in which we explore the craft of writing. On alternate weeks, we have to submit 6,000 words to share among the 9 group members. Scary? Oh yes, but we begin each session by clearing our minds of distractions, exploring the techniques and sensory aspects of good writing, then constructing character and plot. Plus, we read our work. Feedback is constant and respectful, and there’s no shirking.

Mentored by Sue Reynolds and James Dewar, a group of avid scribes in York Region and Simcoe County established hubs for all things writing, based on the Writers’ Community of Durham Region model. WCDR has over 400 members! The Writers’ Community of York Region’s first meeting was in October 2011. Beginning and experienced writers and supporters of all genres of the written word meet monthly to network with publishers and editors, learn from insiders about the writers’ craft, participate in seminars and workshops and gather information about job opportunities and other writers’ organizations. We’re about access and inclusivity. Even our caterer, Chef Deb Rankine, is a published author.

* Originally written for/published in the Sisters in Crime newsletter

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