Meet The Teaching Artist: Writing Trauma with Sydney Hegele
by Writing Workshops Staff
A week ago
We're so excited to introduce you to Sydney Hegele, an incredible teaching artist. Sydney is leading an in-depth new course for WritingWorkshops.com called Writing Trauma: Craft as a Healing Practice 8-Week Zoom Workshop.
Their thought-provoking essays on life with Dissociative Identity Disorder have been published in Catapult and Electric Literature, and they've even been featured by Lithub, the Poetry Foundation, and Psychology Today. They currently reside in Toronto, Canada, on Treaty 13 Land with their loving husband and adorable French Bulldog.
Hi, Sydney. Please introduce yourself to our audience.
I'm a queer Canadian fiction writer, poet, and essayist who writes a lot about intergenerational trauma, environmental justice, mental illness, religious life, and the swampiness that occurs between these things. My first book THE PUMP, an interconnected collection of short stories, was published with Invisible Publishing in 2021, and was the winner of the ReLit Award for short fiction and a finalist for the Trillium Book Award. I have two forthcoming books with Invisible: a novel called BIRD SUIT coming out in 2024, and an essay collection called BAD kids coming out in 2025.
What made you want to teach this specific class? Is it something you are focusing on in your own writing practice? Have you noticed a need to focus on this element of craft?
I've been fascinated in the ways that producing art and healing from trauma intersect since I let go of that "starving artist" notion that I believed in my late teens and early twenties. I used to think that good writing could only come from a place of suffering, and that if I focused on taking care of myself, I would lose my ability to write anything worthwhile. I think that a lot of people still believe this, and I want to contribute to the counter conversation. I'm also someone with lived experience in mental illness, particularly trauma disorders, and that experience is deeply connected to what I write about and how I write it. Craft looks different when you're traumatized-- the process of writing and the processing of memory are going to interact with one another. Rather than fighting to keep them separate, I'm interested in how they might positively interact.
Give us a breakdown of how the course is going to go. What can the students expect? What is your favorite part about this class you've dreamed up?
Each session within the 8-week course looks a little different. We'll stabilize first, learning about group dynamics and setting our own limits of what we hope to get out of the course. In the rest of the course, students can expect to read short pieces on the nature of trauma writing coupled with essays and memoir selections that approach memory and traumatic processing in different ways. There will be a lot of generative exercises assigned with daily free writing, as students try styles that will allow them to gradually approach difficult topics at their own pace, rather than re-traumatizing themselves for the sake of the work. we'll have writer-led workshops, focusing most on the structure of the work, the process of writing it, and building out a writing practice for each individual writer. I'm particularly excited for the workshops.'
What was your first literary crush?
If you're asking literary like an author, I've been obsessed with Gordon Korman since I was ten. When I found out that he wrote THIS CAN'T BE HAPPENING AT MCDONALD HALL when he was a teenager, it gave me permission to write full, terrible novels when I was super young. I needed to write those weird books so that I could write even weirder, more polished books. If you're asking literary like a fictional character, it was Bruno from THIS CAN'T BE HAPPENING AT MCDONALD HALL.
What are you currently reading?
Right now I'm reading KILL YOUR STARLINGS by Tom Cull (poetry) and listening to the audiobook of LUSTER by Raven Leilani (novel). There are also a few books that I'm always rereading for comfort and to learn new things with each read: THE LONELY HEARTS HOTEL by Heather O'Neill; REVELATIONS OF DIVINE LOVE by Julian of Norwich; GOLDENROD by Maggie Smith.
How do you choose what you're working on? When do you know it is the next thing you want to write all the way to THE END?
The only way I know how to discern how long a project will be is to brain dump as many ideas as I possibly can about the idea, and see how much is there. I often have to write things all the way to "an end" before I can go "oh, this didn't work".
Where do you find inspiration?
Mostly memory + the things I read and watch + random hyper fixations. All are good fuel.
What is the best piece of writing wisdom you've received that you can pass along to our readers? How did it impact your work? Why has this advice stuck with you?
I was recently taking a braided essay course with Margo Steines and she said in our first class session "You don't have to bleed out on the page. Save enough blood for you to live in your body after". I think about this every time I sit down to write creative nonfiction. It gives me a boundary--the point in which I can always say "my life is worth more than what it produces for other people" and stop.
What is your favorite book to recommend on the craft of writing? Why this book?
BODY WORK by Melissa Febos is a new favorite. I love craft books that do the very things they teach.
You can learn more about Sydneys's upcoming course: Writing Trauma: Craft as a Healing Practice 8-Week Zoom Workshop.
Trust us: you won't want to miss the opportunity to learn from this inspiring and insightful writer!