“Taking that course was a huge pivot in my writing life, and created friendships and writing collaborations that I benefit from to this day.” - Elizabeth Monier-Williams, SCS learner
When Elizabeth Monier-Williams signed up for a School of Continuing Studies (SCS) creative writing class, she had no idea it would lead her to form a community of writers who would continue to support one another for years to come.
The course in question was an introductory science fiction and fantasy writing class. It was the first creative writing course that Elizabeth had participated in since high school. “I’d been writing creatively for 10 years at that point, and I wanted to take the next step in my journey,” she explains.
The course taught Elizabeth how people who write professionally look at a story. “Knowing what stood out to someone like Nalo [the course instructor] was so helpful,” she says.
With in-class feedback sessions going well, it didn’t take long for Elizabeth and a handful of her dedicated classmates to start meeting outside of class as well. In fact, she continued to meet regularly with SCS classmates Diana, Hardy and T.J., for the next seven years, so they could provide each other with valuable feedback on their work. “We met once a month, or every few months. For longer work, one person would be the focus of the meeting and we would sometimes take a couple of months to read and prepare for the session,” Elizabeth shares. “If everyone was doing shorter works, we’d do more of a round-robin format. Using Nalo’s format—what worked, what didn’t work, and open questions—kept our feedback focused on the story craft, not the writer.”
The course and the writing community she gained through SCS helped Elizabeth get to the point where she was ready to publish her first novel, Chaos Calling. The book follows adult twins from Toronto who are busy with their careers, families and lives, until they realize that a bizarre experience they had with their best friend as teenagers was actually preparation for a global disaster.
The members of the writing group also formed a strong bond. “I grew tremendously through my collaborations with this group. My novel in progress at the time had slow pacing and the framing of historical elements weren’t working in a lot of places. I never finished it. I remember the big moment where I shared some fragments of the ending with the group and told them what I was building toward. T. J. looked surprised and said, ‘That’s it?’” she recalls. “I laugh now, but realizing that what I thought was so amazing wasn’t tracking for the people who knew my writing best was painful. It’s sobering when you realize you’re not doing so well as you thought, but feedback is required to grow and improve. I’m glad they were open enough to (kindly) share their thoughts.”
In addition to vital constructive criticism, Elizabeth says she found support and encouragement to continue developing her craft. T.J. in particular validated her abilities early on, and after his death she paid tribute to him by naming one of her Chaos Calling characters after him. “He was the first person to tell me that there was something special in my work and that it would be a terrible thing to give up on it. After he died, Diana and I continued to meet as I worked on my current project. Anna, one of the protagonists in Chaos Calling is a parent, and her older child Tim is named in his honour.”
Watching others workshop their writing as part of the group taught Elizabeth a lot about story, structure, characters, and pacing. She would recommend that anyone looking to improve their writing find a similar group to share their writing with. “You don’t know what you’ve got until you show your work to other people who write. If you’re serious about writing, there’s no way around that step,” she says. “Writers see narrative differently than people who only read, and they’re often able to get under the hood and show you what’s humming in a way that your friends and family cannot. Feedback is how we grow and every now and then we all need to hear hard truths.”
Elizabeth credits her time at SCS with being a crucial step in her writing journey. “Taking that course was a huge pivot in my writing life, and created friendships and writing collaborations that I benefit from to this day.”