Tamara is a youth worker who has always wanted to write a novel. She explained that she was tired of special interest books aimed at “kids with problems”. She wanted to write a book about a strong, resilient young heroine who just happened to have some issues along the road.
Tamara took my Keep Your Pen Moving class for two seasons to find her writing groove, and then signed up for my annual Summer Words writing retreat, to begin her story. At this retreat, we’re silent until 3 pm each day. Every morning, I would tape little character development assignments to the fridge for Tamara, and through the peaceful hours, she would work away at them.
Very quickly, she discovered Devon, a sassy, sensitive teenage character, stuck in the foster care system. The participants on the retreat fell in love with Devon instantly. She seemed as real as any one of us.
By the end of the retreat, Devon had a personality, a past and a trajectory. Over the next year, Tamara has sent me material via email, which I read avidly, and then provide editing tips and cheerleading. Tamara also took my Manuscript Group workshop, to push her through the bulk of the writing. When she gets stuck, we meet in person to write and talk her way through blocks.
The novel is now finished, and Tamara is starting the process of looking for a publisher. It’s an incredibly powerful and captivating document about loss, survival and the power of love. I’m happy to say that it has made me cry more times than I can even count. We’ll all be lucky when Devon finds her sassy way onto each of our bookshelves.
Kim and Amy had some history to record…
Kim and Amy are the famous “Red Tent Sisters” who run a women’s health and sexuality store in Toronto. They came to me because they wanted to start laying down some of the history of their unique business. As we discussed their ideas, it became clear that deep down, they also needed a way to escape from the store and be in a nourishing, creative environment, as sisters and friends instead of business partners.
For a year, Kim and Amy came to my little home studio every second week for an hour and a half. At the start of each quarter, we’d brainstorm what themes and questions they wanted to approach in their writing, and then in each session we would focus on a different one. I provided them with prompts, projects and quiet time to delve into their journeys, to write and to share.
Kim and Amy generated a vision statement and some foundational history for their business, as well as a lot of material for their blog. Most importantly, though, they had quality time away from their daily demands, to spend with one another, becoming closer to each other and to their shared journey.
“Writing coaching with Chris is the perfect blend of ‘work’ and ‘play.’ I always left sessions feeling like I had watered the seeds of my emotional growth while tending the garden of my childhood spirit. Simultaneously, I felt a sense of accomplishment for having produced creations that advanced my personal and professional goals. Chris brought humour, beauty and tenderness to her lesson plans and always created a space in which my creativity flourished. ”
~ Amy Sedgwick
Three years ago, Kelly signed up for one of my memoir-writing classes, planning to write the history of her family’s cabin on Manitoulin Island. The stories rolled out of her, funny and thoughtful and sharp. Everything was on track, yet, something curious was happening. Whatever Kelly wrote, she always came back to the subject of her body.
Kelly is a reflexology and reiki practitioner (click here!) who works around her fibromyalgia. The metaphors and memories she used about her body were stunning and surprising. When Kelly finished the Manitoulin stories, she hired me as a coach, and we began to sift through her work for the deeper story she’d been telling along.
Very quickly, a collection began to emerge. She felt called to poetry, so Kelly worked on translating some of her stories into poems. She spent afternoons sifting through her old journals for useful fragments, and writing new material to tie it together. I coaxed and coached her along the way, pointing out strengths, suggesting places to expand, and helping her find the hidden structure in her work. Kelly produces quickly, so before long she had 100 pages of material, and she was adding her photography to each section. We found a small-scale publisher who would make just enough copies for herself and the people she loved.
These days, Kelly is working on a novel, but tucked away, on the shelves of all the people Kelly loves, is Written in My Body, a beautiful, leather-bound book of poetry. Trust me: It’s spectacular.
“When I joined my first memoir class something happened that had never happened before. Being in a space with other women who were willing to explore their own stories from a personal perspective, I found the courage to write in new ways. Chris was concious of how much support and caring a small, frightened voice like mind needed to express itself. The encouragement and support Chris offered let me give myself permission to write about my life without judgment, apology or shame.”
~ Kelly Wilk
Cristin wanted to be a little more creative with her master’s thesis …
Nearing the end of her master’s thesis on organizational development, Cristin was beginning to ask herself, “What is this really about?” As she looked back over her own life, she began to see the ways that her life history had laid the groundwork for her academic work. She was amazed to find that the questions she’d been asking in the back of her head all her life were being answered in her research.
Cristin decided to write an introduction to her thesis, using personal storytelling to depict moments in her history that led her to her research questions. She had all the ideas and memories, but her academic training hadn’t prepared her to go about creating a personal narrative.
Cristin and I worked together over a period of three weeks to plan, write and craft her story. She pulled the themes of her thesis together and laid the groundwork on personal terms, and then wove the stories throughout her thesis, in order to contextualize her research within her own life. It is now proudly bound into a book on a library shelf at the University of Toronto.
In the last writing class she took, Patricia’s teacher told her, “Stop taking classes. You have a story inside you, and you need to tell it.” She was confused, and yet it seemed to ring true.
Patricia came to my studio with no idea what to write. Over tea and cookies, we talked through her projects and passions, and discovered a hidden piece of her history that she was aching to express. We formulated the idea of writing this history as a series of letters, and Patricia was off, ready to begin.
Since that day, Patricia has been emailing me installments regularly. The floodgates are wide open and her stories are tumbling out: touching and beautiful, harrowing and hilarious. I read them carefully, and send her in-depth feedback on the themes I see developing, the strengths of her writing and the places that could use some nips and tucks.
To date, Patricia has written a novel-length memoir and we’re beginning the process of combing through it and bringing out the strongest parts. By the end of the year, she will have a manuscript to bring to an agent. I’m constantly inspired by the courage and humour that Patricia brings to every section she sends me. It’s nothing short of a masterpiece.
“I write about Chris with a deep gratitude. From my first submission, Chris ‘heard’ my voice, and gave me the confidence I needed to continue writing. As I worked with her, I came to believe in my voice and in its power to tell the stories of my family. Chris has praised my work and my efforts and guided me with her expert criticisms. She could see where I needed to hold back, where I needed to go deeper, and where I was developing solid themes. It is a pleasure and a privilege to have her as my coach, cheering me on.”
~ Patricia Brean