Writers Abroad Blog
Growing as a writer
Posted by Bieke Stengos


The first time ever I wrote in a diary, I became aware of how the act of putting one’s thoughts on paper has a healing power all of its own. I didn’t grow up wanting to be a writer but I have always written. I was seventeen when a teacher gave us an assignment to write a poem and he praised my poem and said, “You should write.” It was then that the thought took hold that I could be a writer. Then his assignment was to write a short story. I bombed dreadfully because I am not a natural born story teller and there went my dream. It’s good poems kept pouring out of me, regardless, because I can say that my life would not have been as rich if it weren’t for my insatiable need to write.

It could be that my poor sense of executive power at the administrative side of the job has kept me from being as “successful” as I sometimes think I should be or if it is my need to run to the rescue whenever a loved one is in need. In any case, something has kept me from sweeping everything aside and only serve the cruel tyrant that writing can be. Life interfered a lot and the art of not letting it is a good thing if you really want to make a go of it in the writing world. Or is it?

As I ponder all this, I have come to the conclusion that the writer I keep evolving into has a lot to do with my particular quirks. I have come to understand how my personal growth and my writing are very much intertwined. One feeds the other. This has been a revelation to me because when I was young, I believed writing to be a solitary endeavour and a writer one who would sit on an island far from the hustle and bustle of life. But now I know better. I can retreat to my island but I need to also take myself off it and delight in sharing my life, my writing.

In this last incarnation of my writing life, sharing my writing with fellow writers, getting feedback and giving feedback is a process that has helped me grow as a writer, and as a person. When I heard of Writers Abroad and then was taken into its folds, I was delighted. Canadian literature, or CanLit as it is called, is very much the property of a certain elite, even in with its multicultural mandate, and I always struggled with the fact of being from one culture and living in another. I have had ample time exploring this with all of you and for this I am very grateful. You are an eclectic bunch of "Inkslingers", to borrow James Dewar and Sue Reynold’s term for writers. 

I have recently joined another group of international writers through the courses I am taking with the University of Iowa. This too is a diverse group of writers from all over the world and its purpose is simply for group members to act as beta readers to one another. I was thinking a bit of the conversation in last month’s meeting and the need for us to be beta readers to one another.

What makes this group I now belong to work so effortlessly in this probably has to do with the fact that we are all literary writers. Each genre of writing functions on its own rules and those who work within a genre become experts over time and look for expert advice. I marvel how I set out to find a group of literary writers and how this came my way when I was ready. At Writers Abroad we don’t all write in the same genre and I wonder how we could perhaps support one another better if we did include this in our ongoing dialogue.

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