Saturday, January 20, 2018

A review of Brian Henry’s introductory creative writing classes, by Monica Catto

Of late, Tuesday evenings seem void of spontaneity and creativity. For seventeen weeks, I'd been going to creative writing classes on Tuesday nights; two introductory courses, back to back.

I remember scrolling through my emails on my phone one evening in the early spring a couple years back.  I’m quick to hit Delete when things I’ve previously subscribed to but no longer hold my interest pop up.  The email from the Living Arts Centre was one of those emails that almost made it to the trash bin.  I’m not even sure if there was something in the subject heading that alluded to creative writing or what it was, I only know that had I trashed it, I never would have come to know the absolute bliss of re-kindling an old love affair. 

No, not that kind of love affair, but a previous love of writing that hadn’t been wooed in a very long time. I’ll admit I was nervous; I cringed at the thought of anyone reading what I thought was sure to be drivel.

But one of Brian Henry’s first directives in was: “I want you to feel free to write shit.”

Well, I thought, I’m capable of that. I’m already there.

 It was in that moment that I knew I’d love this course and the style of teaching.  I don’t like things sugar-coated. I’m aware that life is complicated and messy at times, and replete with disappointment, so to not be patronized as in a child’s soccer league, where every snot-nosed kid gets a trophy just for showing up, was a relief. 

Being told it was okay to write crap and to “Puke it out; clean it up tomorrow,” was liberating. I found myself learning to just write something, anything; to trust the process and to silence the inner critic so I could pour out some scribbles that could later be forged into a piece of writing with structure and substance.  

I was pleasantly surprised after a few classes that once Brian had rung his little bell and asked, “Is this a good time to end with a dot, dot, dot?” that I actually had something to work with.

While Brian’s critiques are real and honest, they are doled out with thoughtful reflection and a genuine desire to see you succeed.  He’s like the obstetrician in the delivery room of words, and who wants to deliver an ugly baby?   So he gently coaxes out a more arresting opening line, a more believable character, a richer setting.

But not only did characters emerge on our pages, but in the classroom itself. The class included students of every ethnicity and age group, with each of us having our own incentive for wanting to write. Opening ourselves up to be vulnerable with one another and sharing out literary musings, there were times when our motley crew felt more like a support group.  Recognizing that everyone comes with their own story, learning to hear, as well as just listen, was a bi-product of this class. And because we learned to hear, we were able to help one another.

In Without Rival author Lisa Bevere says, “Comparison is the thief of joy.”   I couldn’t agree more.  In the context of writing, it’s easy to find yourself comparing your style and skill to others in the room.  But, for me, what this class accomplished was to teach me to celebrate my own approach to writing, while not negating other people’s style, however different from mine.  The way I see it, as long as there are people who are passionate about reading and enjoy a diversity of styles, there will be room for all of us.

So now I’ve become somewhat of a creative writing junky, looking for my next fix.  It is so much easier to write when you have someone encouraging you and teasing out your creativity with his own quirky style and proven track record for producing published writers.  I’m looking forward to a weekend retreat in the fall at Arowhon Pines Resort with the Quick Brown Fox himself, and my fellow writing junkies.  Until then, I’ll just keep puking it out, and cleaning it up.

Monica Catto is an aspiring photographer, writer and social justice activist working in the human trafficking field with the White Rose Movement of Toronto. She lives in Mississauga, Ontario. You can visit her blog here.

For details of Brian Henry’s upcoming introductory creative writing courses, see here (and scroll down); for all upcoming courses, introductory to advanced and including writing kid lit and writing personal stories, see here (and scroll down).

For information on upcoming writing retreats at Arowhon Pines Resort in Quick Brown Fox, see here (and scroll down).

See Brian’s complete current schedule here, including writing workshops and creative writing courses in Algonquin Park, Bolton, Barrie, Brampton, Burlington, Caledon, Georgetown, Guelph, Hamilton, Ingersoll, Kingston, Kitchener, London, Midland, Mississauga, Oakville, Ottawa, Peterborough, St. Catharines, Saint John, NB, Sudbury, Thessalon, Toronto, Windsor, Woodstock, Halton, Kitchener-Waterloo, Muskoka, Peel, Simcoe, York Region, the GTA, Ontario and beyond. 

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