- Melissa Helquist
Have standard New Year's resolutions already fallen by the wayside? At little to no cost, instead of the annual quest to lose weight, locals can resolve to take advantage of the resources available at Salt Lake Community College's Community Writing Center (CWC). Whether one is an aspiring writer or just needing a second set of proofreading eyes, visitors can gain valuable writing skills along with qualified guidance along the way.
Offering a wide variety of workshops as well as free personal coaching sessions, the center was established in 2001 with the belief that everyone can write, regardless of background and the type of writing they want to pursue. CWC coaches offer guidance in skills ranging from a simple cover letter to many facets of creative writing.
"We work with writers who don't have a high school diploma, and others who have advanced degrees," CWC director Melissa Helquist says. "We also work with writers drafting résumés or composing lyrics for a rock opera, as well as others composing their thousandth poem. We try to meet writers wherever they are."
The CWC offers classes throughout Salt Lake County, with the majority at its main location in downtown's Library Square. The staff schedules practical and creative writing workshops, in response to community requests and interests. For example, current workshop options include science fiction, memoir writing, creating compelling plots and "writing for change," along with others covering grammar and grant-writing. Most are low cost—in the $20-$40 range—with others offered free through partnerships and grant funding. However, fees can be waived for financial hardship. Otherwise, donations are always welcome.
In addition, writers can participate in one of the center's DiverseCity Writing Series groups. Regardless of experience level or interests, the group assists the writing process through feedback, writing prompts, and encouragement.
Staffed by a mix of part-time employees and volunteers, the center selects coaches who are passionate about writing and always ready to learn. "Most importantly, we look for mentors who are respectful of everyone, regardless of background or ability," Helquist adds. "We want to make sure that every writer who participates feels welcomed and supported as they pursue their own goals."
Writing coach and youth programs coordinator Arthur Packard has worked at CWC for more than a year, and finds the mentoring process "incredibly thrilling." He's grateful for the opportunity to talk to people about the pieces they are working on. "We get to read so many fascinating pieces of writing and see the world from so many different perspectives," Packard says. "Every writer coming through our door brings something unique, and it's really rewarding reading their thoughts and interacting with their writing."
Both Packard and Helquist cite the excitement of seeing returning writers, or hearing heartwarming success stories. "A gentleman came into our center who wanted to share his life story with his children, but didn't feel he had the literacy skills to write his experiences down," Helquist says. "We worked with him over a couple of years to get his story on paper and helped him finish the project, with his children very happy to read his life story."
While clients are encouraged to visit in person, those anxious to consult a mentor can receive feedback by submitting documents via email through the CWC's website. "Something I tell a lot of people is that you shouldn't ever be ashamed of a first draft. Revision and rewriting are integral parts of the writing process," Packard says. "We're all writers here, and know how crummy first drafts can feel but they're just stepping stones on your way to a final draft you feel proud of."
Submitting raw work online can still be intimidating, but even the words of published writers are reviewed by many sets of eyes before reaching the printed page. However, the CWC recommends a strategy you can consider in the meantime: Take a break from a piece of writing and put it away for a week or two. You'll gain a fresh perspective and be able to see new things.
"The mentors at the Community Writing Center each have different specialties and writing experience and I appreciate that outside perspective in helping me realize problems I might be self-blind to," Stephanie Jackson, a previous mentee says. "I think there is a romantic idea that writers don't need other writers; we think of all the greats, holed away at their desks, typing away. But all writers need other writers."