They (whoever “they” are) say that if you get off your rear end and help another person it will all come back to you. I saw that happen last Wednesday evening when my writers’ critique group, the East End Writers’ Group, celebrated its 10th anniversary. Group members came out of their personal writing zone to help me put it all together by brainstorming what the heck we were going to do, designing the PR flyer and distributing it, suggesting a pub to go to afterwards, bringing refreshments to the celebration, helping me set up at the venue, introducing me to read (after I introduced the other readers), and driving me and all my stuff to and from the celebration (One member even showed up at my house without asking to take me, but I already had someone on her way). We caught up with her in the library-venue parking lot and the three of us marched in with all our stuff to find another person already there who had set up the chairs.
But the highlight for me was seeing and hearing some of the group reading their creations on the library auditorium stage. Some were new writers, recently published, some since they joined the group and benefited from the constructive criticism. Readings included a travel piece, an inward look at visiting India, a humorous but positive look at the neighbours, a novella excerpt, an essay on life expectations, an historical novel excerpt, an op/ed piece on looking out for your children, and perhaps the most unique – an interview with a novelist’s main character about his situation. Some readings brought tears, some anger, and some laughter. Afterwards, eight of us walked or drove to a nearby pub and stuffed ourselves with food, drink, writing wisdom and stories. One writer even mentioned that the first story he wrote for his now published collection of short stories came from a freefall writing exercise at one of the monthly gatherings at my house. The incentive: a small straw witch which I had held up for everyone to write about for 10 minutes. It might be significant that this witch dangles front and centre in my Halloween decorations on my veranda railing.
The whole experience has made me think that sometimes by doing something that you need you actually are helping others. I started this writers’ critique group because when I moved back to Toronto I couldn’t find one near me. Over the past 10 years I’ve learned as much as I’ve given – not just about writing, but about helping others. You don’t have to do something big like organize a walkathon or charity gala – just the little things can help. And choosing something your are interested in can motivate you.
I am also realizing that for me the helping could have started with my late Mom. One of her sisters had seven kids and her first husband died when the youngest was a baby. Until this aunt remarried, Mom regularly mailed them clothes that no longer fit me (and I suspect some new ones she bought). And this family of cousins and an aunt also received plenty of neighbourly help on their farm.
Does it all go back to family environment? Something you pick up as you go along in life? I think it’s a little of both. What do you think?
Only Child Writes