Meeting Up In A COVID World

Here in Vancouver and the suburbs, community and recreation centers have been opening in stages since early September. This is a good thing for many but as our COVID case numbers steadily rise, I’m not sure how long it will last.

As part of the re-opening process, my local community center decided to resume in-person creative writing workshops. Our community is one of the few that offered weekly classes, and they’ve been so popular over the last 30+ years that participants could sign up for either Thursday morning, Monday evening, or Saturday sessions. And then COVID came.

Currently, our community center’s offering only one five-week session on Thursday mornings, which I’m facilitating. It’s therefore my obligation to ask my six participants if they’ve travelled, feel unwell, or if they’ve knowingly been exposed to anyone with COVID. Before entering the meeting room, we are all required to wash our hands in the washroom just inside the building’s entrance.

We have four long tables. I sit at one while participants sit at either end of the other tables. As customary in these sessions, participants voluntarily read a few pages of their work aloud while we read along from a printed version. Participants hand out and collect their own copies.

So far, we’ve met just once but the system worked well. The question is will we be able to keep it up for the remaining four sessions? If the number of COVID cases rise exponentially, the community centers will be shut down.

The thing is that those who attend these workshops (over half are seniors) do so as much for the social interaction as they do for the critique. Not everyone likes screens. Not everyone works productively when they feel isolated. Introverted as many of us are, we still need to feel part of a community and nothing demonstrates this better than in-person meetups.

Meanwhile, many larger writing events are still being conducted online in our area. I’m not sure how well attended they are and I don’t know if authors are selling any books. I hope they are but something tells me we’re in for a few more rough months. I also know that things will get better and that the best I can do is to keep writing and reading and leaning and improving. Maybe, if I’m lucky, I’ll have a new Casey Holland mystery ready for release and can actually hold an in-person launch. Won’t we all be ready for a party by then?

#amblogging: From the Other Side of the Table

critiquing-other-writers[1]Last Sunday, I had the pleasure of attending the Golden Ears Writing and Reading festival. This brand new event was beautifully organized and well attended. I was happy to volunteer as a blue pencil critiquer. Although I’ve pitched my novels to agents and editors before, this was the first time I sat on the other side of the table, where writers came to see me.

For those who are unfamiliar with the process, a blue pencil session is where a writer sits down with an editor, experienced author, or agent, to have a small sample of their work verbally critiqued. I know firsthand how scary this can be.

My job was to read three double-spaced typewritten pages while the author sat across from me and patiently waited to hear what I had to say. I did this in a room with others, so I had to tune out all conversation while I focused on the pages.

The session required concentration, sharp thinking, and the ability to express myself clearly and in a positive, supportive way. It wasn’t overly daunting because I’ve taken part in verbal critiquing sessions for a local writers group for many years. Despite my experience, suggesting improvements to authors I hadn’t met (with one exception) and for work I’d only just seen, was an interesting challenge, but a rewarding one.

I’ve been writing a long time. The opportunity to help others is one of the most satisfying things about my writing life right now, and I’d happily do it again.