A guiding light for writer’s eyes

The Writer-in-Residence programs

Writer-in-residence programs are supportive environments for writers of all experience levels. 

Rick Chafe, the 2016 Carol Shields Writer-in-Residence at the University of Winnipeg, says he can give feedback to writers who submit work that follows the submission guidelines. 

“I can also be giving a writer who may have less experience than me a whole lot of feedback and techniques and ideas about where they could be going with their writing with a particular piece and how to make it better.” 

Chafe has found many seek out advice on career paths, schools and choices writers can make to develop their work. If a writer-in-residence is unable to help directly, they will likely have connections with someone who can. 

“The support is really important all through your career. Not just in those very first times that you’re venturing out and showing somebody something. You need support to believe in yourself or this is just plain difficult,” Chafe says. “But everything becomes so much easier if you’re going along the path with others at the same time.” 

Patricia Robertson, the current writer-in-residence at the Winnipeg Public Library, says a big part of her job is getting people to let go of their first draft, which many are attached to and believe is ready to go. 

“I’ll say I can see that you see it, very clearly, but it’s not here on the page yet,” Robertson says. At that point, the writer’s job is to rework the pieces so that other readers can enter their world. 

“It’s very much about being able to see what you have,” Robertson says. 

Ultimately, what writer-in-residence programs do is help the writer better their work and, in the process, better themselves as writers. 

“It’s like any discipline,” Robertson says. “It’s like being an athlete or a ballet dancer. You have to keep practicing. And there are days you won’t want to.” 

The personalized contact and feedback are accentuated because there is no grading. Writers are given feedback that’s intended to be constructive and oriented towards their personal goals as writers. 

Margaret Sweatman, an associate professor in the University of Winnipeg English department who has also been a past writer-in-residence at both the University of Winnipeg and Winnipeg Public Library, says that the lack of grading is a huge luxury. 

“They can work with you,” Sweatman says, opposed to working to give writers a mark. 

“I think you also get a dose of professional development because you’re dealing with someone who is working freelance and you kind of by osmosis, or even by direct information, you gain some knowledge of what it’s like to work in the arts,” Sweatman says. 

Chafe, Robertson and Sweatman agree that the benefits of the writer-in-residence programs bring confidence and a guiding light to writers seeking consult, but that writer has to be willing to take and use feedback.

Published in Volume 70, Number 22 of The Uniter (March 3, 2016)

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