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by Writing Workshops Staff

7 months ago

Meet the Teaching Artist: Caged Words, Creative Constraint with Sage Tyrtle

by Writing Workshops Staff

7 months ago

Meet the Teaching Artist: Caged Words, Creative Constraint with Sage Tyrtle

by Writing Workshops Staff

7 months ago

Instructor Sage Tyrtle is not just a seasoned storyteller and writer, but a guiding force in unraveling the beauty of creative constraint. With her work featured across prestigious platforms like NPR, CBC, and PBS, and her extensive teaching experience spanning continents, Tyrtle brings a wealth of insight to her craft. At, she invites writers into a realm where strict rules pave the way for boundless expression.

In her Zoom seminar, Caged Words: Creative Constraint, Tyrtle challenges the notion that limitations stifle creativity, asserting instead that they provide a roadmap to liberation. Drawing a poignant parallel to the overwhelming array of choices in a grocery store toothpaste aisle, Tyrtle illuminates how constraints can simplify and focus the creative process, empowering writers to make bold choices without hesitation. Through her course, participants will not only gain access to a toolkit of creative constraint prompts but also foster a deep understanding of its transformative potential, emerging with drafts of new pieces and a renewed sense of artistic freedom.

 Hi, Sage. Please introduce yourself to our audience.

I'm Sage Tyrtle, when I was five I wanted to be a princess until my dad explained that princesses live in a dystopian patriarchy, so I switched to being a writer instead.

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? Or is this just your jam and you love it?

I am endlessly fascinated by the ways really strict rules can set your creative self free to create amazing stories. I think of it as a stick that you throw for that crummy part of your brain that likes to explain why the story isn't working, and it runs after the stick and while it's out there fetching you get to create wondrous words.

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?

I'm a friendly, warm instructor who laughs a lot. We'll do simple and complex prompts, building as we go to ever more complicated strict rule prompts. Sharing will be entirely voluntary and no one will call on you. My favourite part is hearing the wildly different directions people go using the same very strict rules.

What was your first literary crush?

Louise Fitzhugh

What are you currently reading?

I just finished the short story "My Mother, the Water Monster" by Aeriel Merillat, which combined huge grounded emotionality with speculative fiction, something that's so hard to do and Aeriel did it beautifully.

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?

When it's a story I would love to read, but no one has written it yet. I often begin with a character and a setting I'm really excited about (my story "Perhaps That Person is You" began with just the idea of a house that's untouched but abandoned because the family vanished) and then the plot comes later.

Where do you find inspiration?

I love writing to prompts in workshops. Sometimes I'll start reading a story and think it's about A and then am disappointed that it's about B - that's a great place for me to begin, write the A story. Sometimes I'm ranting about a dumb TV show, saying, "They should have done X not Y!" and my family is like, "Well, write X then." And sometimes I read something so stunning I just want to try my very best to approach the gorgeous lyricism and meaning so I just start writing anything.

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?

Cake batter is not cake. A first draft is not a story. I tried for so many years to write the story in the first draft, to make the first draft the best it could be and THEN polish it. What I've learned is that the messier and more chaotic my first draft is, the more likely I am to finish it so that I CAN get to the work of the second, third, five hundredth draft, until I'm happy with the finished product. (Bonus advice: retype every paragraph, making every sentence stronger.)

What is your favorite book to recommend on the craft of writing? Why this book?

I haven't had much luck with books, but if it's possible to join a writing group that meets regularly I think that's a wonderful way go get yourself to write all the time, but also to get constructive as well as positive feedback. Reaching out to other writers creates community, and in a lonely profession like writing, community is important.

Bonus question: What’s your teaching vibe?

I'm friendly and warm, I laugh a lot, my goal is for the writing room to feel safe for everybody.

Learn more about working with Sage. 

You can learn more about Sage's upcoming seminar, Caged Words: Creative Constraint, and sign up if interested.


Instructor Sage Tyrtle's work is available in New Delta Review, The Offing, Lunch Ticket, and Apex. Her words have been featured on NPR, CBC, and PBS, and she has taught storytelling and writing workshops since 2010, including workshops at York University and Toronto Storytelling Festival, in India, Chicago, and Nova Scotia.

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