Writers’ retreat includes workshop, launch of new publication

Matt Gardner
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Aspiring writers from across the province congregated in Prince Albert this weekend for a retreat that included a Saturday writing workshop and the launch of a new publication.

Prince Albert Writing For Your Life (WFYL) facilitator Lynda Monahan organized the weekend retreat -- which included a smokey on a bun get-together on Friday and a writing workshop on Saturday -- for WFYL members from across Saskatchewan.

“This is the first Prince Albert writing retreat,” Monahan said. “I believe the Moose Jaw Writing for Your Life group has had a couple of retreats before, but all of the other groups are down south.

“This is the only one that’s in the northern part of the province, so we wanted to show off where we live a little bit and have people come up to Prince Albert and see the area and meet the people up here.”

Numerous WFYL members from Moose Jaw attended the weekend retreat, along with one writer from the Swift Current group and another from Eastend.

A partnership between the Saskatchewan division of the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHASK) and the Saskatchewan Arts Board, WFYL involves regular meetings of group members to write and share their work.

“They’re all people who struggle with mental health issues of various sorts, and as the name of our group suggests, they’re writing for their life -- and also very much to break the stigmas around mental health,” Monahan said.

“The misunderstanding that surrounds mental health, they’re working to change that.”

At the beginning of Saturday’s workshop at Par Place, Monahan described to members many of the qualities she considered essential to good writing.

She noted that the act of writing can be highly conducive to self-discovery, arguing that the two most important things about writing are “truth” and “courage.”

“I think if you write the truth courageously, you will always have a really powerful piece of writing,” Monahan said. “So that’s what I always teach in all my creative writing classes.

“Be brave in your writing,” she added. “Say what you want most to say. I think writing is by definition an act of courage.”

Other pieces of advice included using plenty of detail in one’s descriptions and trying to write with one’s own personal voice. Many new writers, she noted, often fall into the trap of imitating the style of their favourite authors.

Good writing isn’t about good grammar. Good writing is about truth. Lynda Monahan

Two things Monahan urged group members not to worry about were spelling and punctuation.

“Good writing isn’t about good grammar,” she said. “Good writing is about truth. You can always fix up the spelling and punctuation later on.”

For the next few hours, the assembled WFYL members engaged in a series of writing exercises using various prompts.

Examples included writing about a place they would like to be, a person they know well, personal heroes, first lines such as “I remember…” or “I wish…” and experiences that changed their lives.

Along with the workshop, Saturday also saw the official launch of a Writing For Your Life newsletter associated with the CMHASK’s Transition magazine, which will offer group members a venue to publish their work.

Editor Ted Dyck described the Transition newsletter as an offshoot of Transition magazine.

Though still testing the waters, he hopes that the newsletter will allow the effective publication of four issues per year, as the magazine’s summer and winter issues are supplemented with spring and fall issues of the newsletter.

“The newsletter is dedicated to the (WFYL) groups,” Dyck stressed.

“Only the groups are featured in it -- the writing groups -- so each of them has their own stuff in it,” he added, pointing to a biography and photograph of the Prince Albert group in the first edition.

“That ordinarily doesn’t occur in Transition (magazine). We wouldn’t feature the picture of a group in Transition. We wouldn’t even probably feature the picture of a writer.”

Copies of the Transition newsletter are available through the CMHA or by contacting Dyck at tdyck@sasktel.net.


Organizations: Canadian Mental Health Association, Transition magazine, Daily Herald

Geographic location: Saskatchewan

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