Writer-in-Residence Offers Words of Wisdom to Would-be Writers

Writing isn’t a dying art, says Chris Dewdney

Chris Dewdney

People are writing more now than ever before, thanks to texting and tweeting, says Chris Dewdney, U of G’s new writer-in-residence. Although a typical text or tweet usually consists of 140 characters or less, it’s still writing – and that’s what he’s here to talk about. “It seems paradoxical right now that writing is bigger than ever,” he says.

An award-winning author and poet, Dewdney has taught creative writing and poetry at York University for the past 28 years. On Tuesday and Wednesday afternoons this semester, he will offer one-on-one writing consultations in his Massey Hall office at U of G. He will also do a series of readings, the first of which will be Oct. 17, 11:30 a.m., at the TransCanada Institute.

“One of the things I enjoy about writing in residence is meeting prospective writers; people who want to polish their skills and people who just want to talk about writing.” During a 30-minute appointment, Dewdney will review three pages of double-spaced writing and provide feedback. He welcomes anyone from U of G and the public to bring their poetry, prose and non-fiction.

Dewdney is also looking forward to working on his own writing during his residency at U of G. “It’s a nice retreat,” he says of Guelph. “It’s outside of Toronto and it’s a lovely town. I really like this ambience and I get to spend hours in an office just focusing on my own work.”

Working with U of G faculty is another highlight for Dewdney. “There are some fabulous writers on the faculty here,” he says, referring to Prof. Dionne Brand, who won the Griffin Poetry Prize last year, and Catherine Bush, associate co-ordinator of the MFA program in creative writing.

He says becoming a writer himself was not a conscious decision. “It took me by surprise: one day I just realized that I was a writer. It happened so naturally.” That innate writing ability led him to publish his first book of poetry at the age of 20.

Since then, Dewdney has published four books of non-fiction and 11 books of poetry, received four nominations for the Governor General’s Award and won first prize in the CBC Literary Competition for poetry. Even with so many accolades, he says, “writing is always work.” A close friend of his, also a writer, compared the writing process to “chipping through a concrete wall with a spoon.”

It’s also a learning process that never ends. “I think that’s true of any field if you’re really dedicated to it,” says Dewdney. “You can always do better. You can always improve. If you’re not thinking about that, if you’re resting on your laurels, I don’t think you’re growing. You’re not going anywhere.” He says one of the best ways to edit your own writing is to read it aloud to someone else.

Although writing is a skill that can be learned and developed, Dewdney admits that not everyone is cut out to be a writer. Regardless of your skill level, he will give you his honest opinion and some constructive criticism. His advice for becoming a better writer is to read: “Read good writers.” And not just any writers, he adds. Read authors who have won major Canadian and American literary awards.

But just because a book is popular doesn’t mean it’s well written, he adds, referring to Fifty Shades of Grey, which has spent almost 30 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list. “Popularity is not necessarily equivalent to literary merit,” says Dewdney. “There’s certainly nothing wrong with popularity, but it’s always nice when you can get both literary merit and popularity.”

To book an appointment with Dewdney, contact Michael Boterman, School of English and Theatre Studies, at mboterma@uoguelph.ca. Dewdney’s office hours are Tuesdays from 1 to 3 p.m. and Wednesdays from 1 to 2 p.m.