The write stuff

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Friends and Sturgeon County writing pair create grassroots workshops for wanna-be wordsmiths

There’s writing classes and workshops, and then there’s Third Verb. The grassroots start-up is the brainchild of university pals Jessica Kluthe and Jennifer Lavallee, both writers and Sturgeon County natives who have stayed friends over the years while their writing careers went different ways.

The just-launched workshops are niche sessions with a twist. A different local author hosts each of the workshops. Participants are offered the chance to submit work afterwards for feedback. Add to that a few further writing exercises to the participant’s inbox, and you’ve got an experience, rather than a typical lecture-style writing workshop.

“Jess had the idea earlier this year, and it snowballed. We got support from the writing community right away – local authors willing to share their expertise with aspiring writers,” said Lavallee, now a Morinville-area freelance writer.

Kluthe teaches in the Bachelor of Communications program at MacEwan University and is author of her own family history Rosina, the midwife. She said she saw a gap in the community, between those studying writing full-time and others taking in a one-time literary or library event. “There’s many people interested in writing fiction, non-fiction, poetry, blogging or even business writing, and they want learning opportunities that aren’t a big investment in time or money,” she said.

The smattering of occasional writers’ conferences and Edmonton’s annual LitFest are valuable, said Kluthe, but are more the lecture-style, sit-and-listen format rather than the interactive workshop that is Third Verb. “This workshop is relaxed and casual – people can ask questions any time. And because Jennifer and I are both writers, we’re interested in the same topics as our participants. And we’re small enough to meet demand and respond to feedback through our website or Facebook page.”

Third Verb’s May 30 workshop on Writing Short, Short Stories (with author Jason Lee Norman – known for his anthology 40 Below (on Edmonton’s winters) delves into the so-called ‘flash writing’ that Kluthe said so many people are reading and writing. After that, it’s a turn for poetry lovers, as poet Lisa Martin presents Poetry: The Art of Connection, on June 15.

The first of Third Verb’s inaugural trio of workshops – Crafting Strong Scenes – was held recently at downtown Edmonton’s historic Union Bank Inn. A handful of participants enjoyed a casual but information-filled three-hour session of questions, readings and writing, presented by Kluthe.

“Show, don’t tell – it draws readers into the moment,” Kluthe said, reading snippets from her own and others’ works to demonstrate how scenes are crafted. “And use at least one concrete, significant image per scene.” Soon, the author and teacher had the class drafting and re-drafting their own scenes about their childhoods.

For participant Jessica Johns, who is studying writing at UBC this fall, the workshop has already proved valuable. “The workshop taught me not just how to write strong scenes, but the importance of them, and the most effective time to use them in my work,” she said. “Also, the opportunity to have a professional writer look over a piece of my work is, in itself, worth the time and money.”

“Creating Strong Scenes helped me anchor some of my thoughts, and recognize the difference between writing in scene and just writing exposition,” said Erin McCarty, who took the workshop to help get her started on a larger writing project. “I liked that the workshop is casual and intimate, and the exercises helped me tap into the more dormant, creative part of my brain.”

The unusual workshop setting and the chance to follow a three-hour class with ongoing exercises and instructor feedback is what Third Verb is all about, according to Kluthe. “We want to immerse writers in the topic and encourage them to continue writing long after the workshop. It’s especially good for emerging writers to sustain the work and the connection with other writers.”

Lavallee said the pair also appreciates the quick community support (Union Bank Inn, Audreys Books and Stonehouse Publishing). “Our philosophy of supporting Edmonton and area authors and related businesses is resonating.”

Third Verb is already planning the next set of three workshops for the fall; each led by a different author but with the same promise of follow-up exercises and feedback on work. Workshops are $150 each, and can be booked online at thirdverb.com.

And what of the name, Third Verb? It’s a writing tip, according to Kluthe – a reminder to choose the third verb wherever it will enliven a sentence. For example, “The day was about to start/begin/erupt. It’s about choosing something unexpected – like our workshops,” Kluthe said. “Writing is so isolating. Most of the time you’re at home and in your own head. But there’s a supportive writing community here – I think the city is overdue for something like this.”

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About Author

Lucy Haines

Lucy Haines has been a freelancer writer for the St. Albert Gazette since 2012. She writes features on travel, food, seniors, homes and gardens.