VBC ‘Views — Betsy Warland: Breathing the Page


ReVIEWS, preVIEWS, interVIEWS, and overVIEWS: here’s where you’ll find out what the Vancouver Book Club team thinks about the literary scene in Vancouver. What you should read, where you should go, who you should sit up and notice.

Anyone who has taken a creative writing course with Betsy Warland will understand why I was excited to revisit one of her books in preparation for a class at Simon Fraser University.

Breathing the Page: Reading the Act of Writing (Cormorant Books, 2010) is a collection of essays about writing and it brings Betsy Warland’s considerable gifts as a teacher onto the page. The book is based on her experience as an author of 11 books, as well as an editor, manuscript consultant, and creative writing teacher who has nurtured hundreds of writers and manuscripts.

You’ll find many things in Breathing the Page that writers need. There are suggestions about craft, such as calling on the body as a way of anchoring oneself in a narrative’s “state of consciousness.” There are insights about the writing process. Being mindful of the all-important role of the reader (“the act of reading is an act of belief”) was one of my biggest take-aways. Basic but often unarticulated questions of writing are investigated in this book. For example, the chapter “Sustaining Yourself as a Writer” offers straight talk about the difficulties of writing as a vocation, as well as strategies for thriving and surviving: “It is essential for us to be inventive, tenacious, wily.”

Breathing the Page also explores elemental aspects of writing, such as how writers might approach the page – printed or virtual – as a medium that “holds all possibilities” and functions as an “energy field that humbles, intrigues, elates, terrifies.”

Breathing the Page practices its own good advice. It is artful and considered, and never rushed. The form of the narrative is eclectic and diverse – essays on writing and craft are interspersed with writing exercises, questions from writers, and excerpts from Betsy Warland’s own work as well as the manuscripts of writers she has taught.

Warland’s creative writing classes are filled with warmth and wisdom, and they often reveal wise and surprising ways of coaxing your narrative into being. Breathing the Page offers something just as good: a chance to bring Betsy Warland’s voice into your head as you write.

Excerpts from Breathing the Page are available on Betsy’s website, as is a video of how the book came to be. You can also follow Betsy Warland on Twitter.

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