Writing can often be a personal and individual experience, but award-winning writer Susan Ksiezopolski recently spoke to UTM’s Professional Writing and Communication program on March 11 about the benefits of writing within a community.

Ksiezopolski graduated from the Humber School for Writers and has published poetry books and writing aides, like The Writer’s Workbook, as well as helped others with their publications. She is also a lead training facilitator with the Toronto Writers Collective (TWC), a non-profit organization founded in 2012 that hosts creative writing workshops.

What is the best environment for your writing? Ksiezopolski addressed this question by discussing how writing in groups can help improve your writing as an individual. She started writing as a solitary act, but said her writing reached new levels when she decided to join a community only five or six years ago. Feedback, Ksiezopolski said, is one of the most helpful things about writing in a community. Having other people give feedback is not the same as editing on your own or reading the piece out loud to yourself, rather it gives you the opportunity to hear your writing from different perspectives. The key here is for a helpful response. Ksiezopolski puts emphasis on the word ‘helpful’ which gives validation back to the writer, rather than giving comments that would tear them down. Giving feedback based on the piece itself and not the actual author also reduces judgement and helps to create a safe space for writers. How the feedback is phrased also has the ability to help strengthen the piece.

“Listening is as important as writing,” said Ksiezopolski in her presentation. Giving others a chance to be heard is one of TWC’s main missions. The organization welcomes everyone, but specifically reach out to marginalized communities, like the homeless, those with mental illness, those recovering from addiction, 2SLGBTQQIA and more. In 2017, TWC published their first anthology: Front Lines: Voices from the Toronto Writers Collective and have a second one coming out in 2020.

The TWC workshops run using the Amherst Writers & Artists workshop method which creates a group for people to participate and write, if they want, along with sharing strength-focused feedback to encourage the writer. You go in with a blank slate and open mind—10 minutes to write based on a prompt—without any judgements.

“Follow the pen wherever it takes you—there will always be time to edit,” said Ksiezopolski.

TWC has trained over 100 facilitators and have many locations based in Toronto, with others in surrounding areas like Mississauga and Ottawa, with more plans to expand. Ksiezopolski strongly recommends the workshops, along with the book Writing Alone and With Others by Pat Schneider, founder of the Amherst Writers & Artists method. Working with these mediums show the power writing can have within a community. Ksiezopolski says it is important to find a community that speaks to you. There are many different types out there, whether you prefer meeting online or in-person. You can even create your own. Find one that fulfills your sense of belonging.

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