Saskatchewan

Regina Public Library's writer-in-residence hopes to inspire more people to pick up a pen during pandemic

The pandemic may give budding writers a chance to try something new, says new writer-in-residence J. Jill Robinson. 'There's an opportunity to get to know ourselves better.'

'There's an opportunity to get to know ourselves better' by writing during pandemic, says J. Jill Robinson

J. Jill Robinson is the 2020-2021 writer-in-residence at the Regina Public Library. (Submitted by J. Jill Robinson)

With the pandemic leaving some people with more free time to create, the latest writer-in-residence at the Regina Public Library hopes to inspire both established writers and new authors alike to pick up a pen. 

J. Jill Robinson, who is originally from B.C., became the library system's writer-in-residence in August. The 65-year-old writer has earned numerous awards for her writing, including two Saskatchewan Book Awards.

Her love of writing started as a teenager, she says.

"I actually went off-track and quit school and got into all kinds of trouble and got very lost. And I found myself writing and trying to figure things out, like 'What's the meaning of my life and what am I supposed to do?'" Robinson said.

"Getting my worries out on paper made a difference, and I could understand my situation better."

Robinson's sister gave her a book by a woman who was also named Jill Robinson, and J. Jill Robinson's career path was set.

But she says at the time, she wished there was a writer-in-residence she could turn to for support.

Now, Robinson will be supporting local writers during her year-long residency. She said because of the pandemic, most sessions will be online workshops or one-on-one, with masks and physical distancing in place.

"If you're one of those people who thinks that you've got a writer in there, I'm your woman," Robinson said. "I find so far, anyway, that it's working really well."

Robinson said she can't speak for everyone, but says she suspects the same way people have done more baking or gardening during the pandemic, more have started writing. 

"Some people, I think, have not even been aware that they had an inner life," but with "this quarantine and spending a lot of time by yourself … there's an opportunity to get to know ourselves better," Robinson said.

"It makes sense that we would put that down in writing."

Sisters turn to writing for fun during pandemic

Two sisters in Regina took to writing during the pandemic, not for self-expression but for something fun to do. Susan Smith wrote a children's book and her sister, Monica Jean Smith, illustrated it. It started organically while talking about what the two love. 

"Monica and I just love the outdoors. We love reading. We love food and we're both visual artists. And so it was a rather organic process," Susan said. "It was just a good time that the pandemic certainly inspired."

The two decided to create an ABC book with a new take. It became Greedy Beesquito and the Alphabet Jumbimals, an alphabet story for three- to eight-year-olds following the flight of a character called Beesquito past the alphabet "jumbimals" — or jumbled animals.

Susan Smith and her sister in Ontario, Monica Jean Smith, created a children's alphabet book for fun during the pandemic. (Matt Howard/CBC)

Monica said the main creature — a combination of a bee and a mosquito — came from her love of bugs and experience with having a cabin in an area with a large population of mosquitoes. The rest came from doodling a vision in her head, she said. 

Just because something's different, it doesn't mean you have to look at it in a different way.- Monica Smith

"As I drew them, they just came alive, Monica said. 

The sisters say they decided to jumble the animals to show children a message about diversity, inclusion and acceptance. 

"Just because something's different, it doesn't mean you have to look at it in a different way," Monica said. 

The two sisters sought feedback during the summer from family friends before publishing the book. Now, the two say they can't wait for people to read it.

Encouraging, compassionate feedback

Robinson said she hopes to encourage other people to do the same. She said she offers reader-response type of advice and that her inbox (she can be reached at WIR@reginalibrary.ca) is open to poetry, books, or any other form of writing.

She aims to be encouraging, kind and compassionate when giving feedback. 

There are two main ways to write, Robinson said. The first is from the outside, where people create a character and then work on the plot and setting.  The other is from the inside, where people look into their own depths and see what's important there. 

Start in the middle — anywhere that will get you putting your pen on the paper.- J. Jill Robinson

"Writing can help you figure out things. It can help you entertain other people. It can help you write your family history so that the stories that you have in your own history can be shared with your descendants," Robinson said.

"It depends what you want the writing to do for you."

For anyone considering writing something during the pandemic, Robinson said to just "start anywhere." 

"Start in the middle — anywhere that will get you putting your pen on the paper, your hands on the keys of the computer or a typewriter," she said.

"The main thing is just to start writing."

With files from The Morning Edition

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