Hilary is a writer and psychotherapist, with previous lives working in publishing and pottery. She completed graduate work in English Literature, then in Spiritual Care and Psychotherapy; in between, she worked for major Canadian magazine, The Walrus; sat on the editorial committee for Descant Magazine; and attended the Haliburton School of the Arts to study ceramics—a craft she had admired all her life. On the other side of these various and perhaps random seeming trainings, she can see a through line—a drive to sustain creative vitality, flexibility, and freedom in order to keep her working life fresh and her stamina strong. Hilary has written for the The Stratford Festival’s Fanfares magazine, The Walrus blog, and Open Book: Toronto; as a graduate student, she co-authored a paper that won the Woman’s Caucus Award at Western University. She is currently working on revisions to a short story collection, and daydreaming about articles on neuroscience and learning to write poems well.
When I found Sarah Selecky and her writing school I was shocked—then thrilled—to discover that someone else was articulating all the things I felt, but couldn’t figure out how to say, about writing.
Sarah asked me to think about writing as a relationship. Full of the same joys and pains as anything else beloved to us. Wait, what? She thought of it that way, too? Who was this smart stranger, speaking straight to (what felt at the time like) my atrophied creative soul? I dove into her letters and blog content. I emerged hopeful. Since you’re here, I imagine a similar alchemy may be alive in you, too?
In 2016, I had been on a painful hiatus from my pen. I was nervous to nudge back up to this part of myself, but I remembered Sarah and her prompts, and I made a New Years resolution to write from those prompts. Ten minutes a day; no expectations, no exceptions. By May, I had a full notebook and was enrolled in the Intensive; by the following February, I was digging deep in the Story Workshop. My return to writing was full of longing and trepidation, but the pain of avoiding it had finally become stronger than the pain of looking at it head on. And when I got brave, when I dug back in, I discovered my writing was still there—patiently waiting to be remembered.
I had spent most of my life with words and books, and I wanted to dedicate the rest of my life to them. But I had done a lot of my “loving on” writing from inside academia—and in the process, I had shackled myself to a totally intellectualized, pretty juiceless way of approaching it.
I’ll admit, at first it was hard for me to compute that doing “good work” didn’t equal drudgery or that “real critique” didn’t equal an ego assault. This shouldn’t be a revelation: we don’t stomp on plants and yell at them to grow. But learning that we can be rigorous and joyful in our work; that we can be both useful and gracious in our feedback to others—and receive the same? That was a game changer.
Through the Intensive, I learned the concrete elements of the story-writing craft that allow ideas to blossom into full narratives. Absolutely, I did. You will, too. But the first, most profound lesson? I learned to play. It’s not always easy, of course, but something huge happened when I stopped trying to hammer my creativity into being.
It sounds contrary, but I think I had to mature into playfulness. When I got vulnerable, honest, and raw, my work got stronger. I finally learned that taking my writing (and myself) “less seriously” doesn’t mean I’m not serious about my writing. It means that I’m absolutely serious about fostering a freer space for it to grow.
This learning happened when I immersed myself in a group with thoughtful peers and a great teacher. They brought insight, generosity, diligence, and encouragement to our every encounter. This is where the momentum happens. It was in relationship with my Story Intensive group that I strengthened my private relationship with my writing. I worked hard. I stayed accountable. I felt on fire. And I began to trust that it was safe to take risks and push myself.
It’s an honour and a privilege to be part of the writing processes of others, and to be a part of this school: it’s magic to watch skills build, voices find their pitch, and stories transform.
Thank you for letting me in on your journey. Now, let’s build the momentum, trust the mystery, and dive into the play!