Sarah Selecky

Sarah Selecky

What do you do when you are writing in a place where no one knows you, or you don’t know the language, and you don’t have a writing group or a mentor to urge you on? You listlessly eye that writing guide you unpacked some time ago. You’re stuck. No, worse than stuck. Writing has started to feel like pushing a train back into its tunnel. If you’re in the wilds of nowhere, you could look to the stars for help. If you’re in a city, and have access to the internet, then help is at hand.

Sarah Selecky is the author of the short story collection, This Cake is for the Party, which was shortlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize and was a finalist for the Commonwealth Prize for Best First Book in Canada and the Carribean.

She gave her first creative writing workshop from her living room in Victoria B.C. in 2001. She has studied with and been influenced by Natalie Goldberg, Lynda Barry and Zsuzsi Gartner, among others. She studied writing at the Humber School for Writers and the Banff Wired Writing Program. She has an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of British Columbia’s Optional-Residency program.

“I started teaching because I wanted to talk about writing as a contemplative craft, and I couldn’t find a writing workshop anywhere that taught me everything that I wanted to learn. Now I live in Toronto, and I teach locally and abroad. My classes are a unique hybrid of craft and process….” That’s from Sarah Selecky‘s website. In an interview in The Danforth Review, she says her e-course started as a wish, to get around the problems of time zones and demands on a writer’s time: “I created this course to teach people how to repair their relationship to writing. It’s for writers who know they’re good, or at least have a feeling that they’re good at writing, but they fear doing it anyway. Or they resist it. … It’s designed especially for short fiction writers, but any writer can benefit from the methods.” (12 January 2012)

Of the various online options for writing courses, Sarah Selecky’s short story e-course, Story is a State of Mind, is the most flexible. You work through the seven lessons at your own pace. Each lesson is presented in audio, video and text modules. See Notes for her video introducing the course. It doesn’t mean the course will be easy or soothing. As Selecky says on her website: “I make writers work hard. I kick them out of their patterns and grooves, get them to take risks with style and content, help them recognize and eradicate their own clichés, boilerplate story lines, and other less-than-excellent habits. I want to read stories and voices that I’ve never read before.” Looking at the course content, I see some familiar terrain,  such as dialogue and character, but also much that is new to me (lily pads?). If you are not sure you want to pay $250 for seven lessons (with unlimited access, you can do it as often as you wish), then read Alison Gresik’s website review  of the first chapter of the course.

It must be working. Launched in December 2011, the e-course has already had over 100 participants. If you are reading this and are one of those participants, please click the balloon above and give us a comment on what you thought of the course.

I first learned about this course in Alison Gresik’s “Hours for Art” interview with Selecky, when Selecky mentioned escaping to Hawaii for some quiet time to work. It turns out that Hawaii was but one stop on a journey of several months that included Indiana, Florida, San Miguel de Allende in Mexico for a writer’s conference, and another conference in Chicago.  But it was in Hawaii where she worked on the e-course for two months.

view from desk of palm trees and water

The view from Sarah Selecky’s desk in Hawaii

The last leg of her journey was a month in Berkeley, California, where she settled into working on her own fiction. “Now that I’m in California, however, I have started to write again. I am so grateful to be at this new desk, one that I haven’t ruined yet with email, tax returns, or business of any kind (other than fiction business). I sit in front of a window that looks out into a blooming California garden, and I have found a new perspective. I am finally ready to renovate two old stories and see where they can go this year. There is no computer allowed at this desk: only pens and paper.”

Finally, from her website again: “I write. I take time off regularly, go where nobody will find me, and focus on the one thing I need to do the most. And I advise you to do the same.”

Posted by Debra Martens

author, editor