Nancy Dutra loves writing, reading, and occasionally singing about the human condition. She is a contributing author to SOCAN Words and Music magazine and is a freelance writer and editor. Her album, “Time Will Tell,” charted on the Euro-Americana Roots Music List and received favourable reviews from CBC, Exclaim, NOW, and No Depression.


When I speak, I’m verbose and repetitive. When I write, however, I’m concise. With each successive draft, my point of view gets sharper, more straightforward, more precise. On the page, I express myself in ways I’m not ready to in person. The page is a safe space. I write to understand and be understood.

Sharing my work is a different story. Sometimes I’m nourished by constructive feedback. Other times, it splinters my self-esteem, cutting into my courage. To put oneself in the arena is to risk greatly. Rejection abounds. In these moments of existential crisis, I turn to my reasons for writing and my community for support. Without other writers to conspire, commiserate, and celebrate with, where would I be? I write to be part of a community.

Lorri Neilsen Glenn, a Red River Métis writer and former Halifax Poet Laureate shares, “Like many writers, I love to create. I sketched and painted, acted in local theatre productions, threw clay pots on a wheel and dabbled in fibre arts. When I turned to writing poetry and creative nonfiction in my 50s, it became the primary way I wanted to make sense of my own and others’ lives.” Neilsen Glenn has more than realized her goal. She’s the author and editor of fourteen titles of poetry, creative nonfiction, and scholarly work, and has a forthcoming book, The Old Moon in Her Arms: Women I Have Known and Been.

Despite her prolific output, Neilsen Glenn takes time to take in and not just produce, art. “I have fallow periods when I don’t put words on the page, but those times don’t last long.” She chooses not to worry or wallow, instead relishing the world around her. “My advancing age won’t allow me writer’s block,” she says, emphasizing that “life is too short and the world too fascinating.” She’s attuned to what’s happening around her. “I’ve found paying attention whets curiosity, whether it’s about the fracas in the grocery store, an historical figure, or the stories behind the characters in the hospital waiting room. I jot notes, read as much and as widely as I can, try to stay open. Eventually, things gather and begin to coalesce, and I go to my notebook or the keyboard. I can’t not write. If I go too long without writing, I become antsy, off-kilter. That state of suspension both challenges and energizes me.”

When Cooper Lee Bombardier, an American visual artist, writing instructor, and author of Pass with Care: Memoirs struggles, he takes time to reflect. “I never doubt that writing is something I want to do but sometimes, when getting the words down feels like a total slog, I have to remember my why. Why am I writing this story, memoir, novel, et cetera? How would I feel if I never finished it? Would I be okay with that? The desire for me to make art, to create something, often far outweighs temporary discouragement–I feel better as a human being mentally, physically, and emotionally, when I am attending to my need to create.”

Despite being a self-professed “loner” and introvert,” Bombardier is all about community. “It helps to have a community of writers to both support and to be supported by so that we can step out of the solitude and into the act of communication which is what brings us to writing in the first place,” he says. “A couple of solid writer friends is wonderful, a writing group or accountability partnership can be helpful, and both mentoring and being mentored allow us to learn and to pay it forward. And being part of a writing community can be more diffuse, too: reviewing books, interviewing authors, organizing readings or open mics, even posting reviews on Goodreads or Amazon, or sharing recent reads when interviewed are all ways to participate in a writing community.”

Carol Shaben, bestselling author of Into the Abyss: How a Deadly Plane Crash Changed the Lives of a Pilot, a Politician, a Criminal and a Cop and coauthor with Mohamed Fahmy of The Mariott Cell: An Epic Journey from Cairo’s Scorpion Prison to Freedom, is also grateful for her community. “The creative work I do mentoring, supporting, and being in community with writers is a tremendous source of joy and motivation. The courage of others to continue to write amid challenges far greater than my own, to submit despite continued rejection, and to write from a place of passion, inspires me every day.”

Writing is not Shaben’s first profession. “I came to writing in my forties after a whole other career, so it was a conscious choice to take this more difficult, less financially secure path,” she says. Despite the uncertainty that comes with a life in writing, Shaben feels lucky to be earning a “modest living” and is grateful for a supportive spouse who believes in her. “When I’m feeling discouraged, I remind myself it’s a privilege to do what we do; to sit still and muse deeply about the world, to quietly put our thoughts and passions on the page, especially in a time of constant noise and distraction,” she says. “And I remember the words of James Baldwin whose reason for writing aligns so closely with my own: You write in order to change the world … if you alter, even by a millimeter, the way people look at reality, then you can change it.”                    

As I learned from Neilsen Glenn, Bombardier, and Shaben, the solitary nature of writing can be made less lonely by the interdependence of community and a good dose of gratitude. And from James Baldwin via Shaben and my own interpretation, I learned that writing is an act of affirmation and sometimes of activism. I write to place myself in a lineage of writers who tell stories as a means of spiritual survival.