Learning to Read

'Maybe what I was seeing was a vision of a community of gifts'

About six months ago, I joined a writers’ workshop. Though I’ve been writing for years, I haven’t been plugged into a committed local writing community since university. Writing has been my quiet work, my solitary sport, and my own way of trying to make the world make sense. But wheels turn and, with last year’s publication of my collection of short fiction and my upcoming novel this spring, I felt like I needed to settle in and make some writerly friends.

We get together once every six weeks or so, all having read a set number of pages. The goal of the group is to hold each other accountable and to share the journeys so that when the writing gets difficult and the story stalls, we won’t be alone with an unmanageable manuscript. Others will know our story and be there with warm support. So, with that in mind, we read and then we talk about what we like, what we don’t like, and what we wonder about. We dissect character motivation and pacing. We eat snacks and find ways to weave our own experiences into the story. It’s been really good to gather, to get to know new people in new ways and to talk books.

But – and here’s the pinch – the rest of the group are professionals. They each work as creative writing lecturers or tutors and they are all more seasoned writers with multiple books under their belts. Their workshop muscles are top notch. Kind and helpful criticism seems to flow from them naturally. I’ve had a lot to learn – not only about how to write a book but how to read like a writer. In order to be useful, I’ve had to learn how to be both focused and far-seeing. Not just to notice, but to see clearly. For me, being part of this small group has been new and daunting at times, but fascinating and enriching, too. A stretch and a leg up in one.

Community of gifts
This month, things changed. Now that each of us has had a turn to share a sample of our work, it was time to tackle a full, about-to-be-delivered-to-the-publisher manuscript. This felt different. For one thing, an end was in sight. This wasn’t what-if anymore. We were helping bring a book into the world. My questions were sharpened and my words were more intentional. I felt we all worked better together this month because it mattered. And for me, this suddenly felt familiar. This time around, the workshop was part baby shower, part labour support. We were midwives and doulas, helping and holding as we worked together, celebrating and witnessing this mysterious finishing process. 

The writer whose novel we read isn’t a mother, so I kept this metaphor to myself. But I remembered that when I was going through such moments approaching and during the births of my children, the community’s presence was so essential for my own balance and mental health. And I wondered where else this metaphor might be powerful.

Maybe what I was seeing was a vision of a community of gifts. I’d seen this in the supportive people who helped me birth my children and now I found it at the editing table. In both places, those around me brought their experiences and intuition together and, as they offered support, they also received it, teaching and learning from each other, so we all left these spaces with new wisdom. 

There is a wellness and wholeness that comes from being supportive and supported together. I’m sure that the apostle Paul’s metaphor of the Body and his understanding of spiritual gifts is akin to this. So much of our scriptures speaks into our struggles and longings for healthy community. When we find our vocations – our places in the work of the community – something clicks into place. Call it joy or consolation. Call it finding your rhythm or finding your voice. We are crafted to work together. 


  • Katie is an Ottawa writer living in Cardiff with her spouse and three growing children. You can also find Katie on Twitter @messy_table.

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