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Q&A: Co-founders of My Writing Shed introduce new creative space to the Peoria community

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Courtesy Jennifer Flaig
My Writing Shed is located at 716 W. Main in Peoria, next door to the indie bookstore Lit on Fire.

A new unique and collaborative space for writers is opening on Peoria's West Bluff. My Writing Shed, which neighbors the iconic indie bookstore Lit on Fire, is a place for individuals to share what they have to say.

The Shed invites writers of all genres and abilities to come together to create, to share, to learn and to appreciate the beauty in the art of language.

WCBU Correspondent Jess Moreano talks with co-founders Jennifer Flaig (she/her), Cara Dossett (she/they), and Destinee Wilson (she/they) about the opportunities the Shed currently offers writers, and what's to come in the near future.

Jess Moreano: Well first, I’d like the three of you to take turns and tell me a little about yourselves and your writing background.

Cara Dossett: My name is Cara Dossett and I'm one of the co-founders at My Writing Shed. I work as a freelance developmental fiction editor at Read The Stars Editing, and I'm also a writer. I'm currently working on a science fiction romance novel. And I coach and work with writers locally and around the world.

I'm really excited for what we're going to do in 2023 and beyond with the Writing Shed for the local writing community. We have lots of projects planned that we're going to go over today.

Destinee Wilson: My name is Destinee Wilson, and I am a co-founder of My Writing Shed. My writing background kind of started when I was in college. I was looking for filler classes for my schedule, and I ended up taking Jim Sullivan's poetry workshop class at ICC. That's how I started getting into poetry, and then it kind of never stopped. I started getting really involved in the local poetry community. And then I started going to Jessica Stephenson's open mic nights at Lit on Fire. Then I started sending out my poetry to different magazines and periodicals, and started getting published.

Jennifer Flaig: Hi, I'm Jennifer Flaig. I am the creator and co-founder of My Writing Shed. I focus more on fiction for writing. And I am working right now on a horror comedy kind of crossover. I previously published with a co-author under Cody Ashbury, and that was sort of a Saturday morning cartoon-feel fiction novel. And I also do some poetry.

So you three are the co-founders of My Writing Shed. Why don't you tell me a little bit about what the Shed is and what it's supposed to represent in the Peoria community?

Dossett: We are a nonprofit created by writers for writers. And we aim to serve the central Illinois writing community by offering a space here in Peoria, for creating and connecting, for learning and growing, and for sharing writers' experiences and work with others.

Flaig: So we have a physical space, which I think is unique. We did a lot of research, when we were creating this and kind of coming up with how we were going to do it, It's not very common to have a space actually designed for writers. You can go to coffee shops, you can go to bookstores, which I love, especially Lit On Fire. But it’s not the same as, you know, just having that environment. So we try to take the best of all the worlds and put it together in one space. So that's part of it.

The second part is we're going to start offering- and we're working on a programming now just getting it ready, there's something called “Sheduary” coming up. It will be outstanding. But we're gonna have workshops and some classes starting in January, February. We have pay-what you-can memberships. That's what we're starting also. You pay what you can, you come in here, we'll have some writing times, people can come in and do their thing, we're going to partner with Lit on some open mic nights and some other events, things like that. And depending on what our writers want, you know, that's going to dictate some of what we do.

So, what opportunities does the Writing Shed currently offer to the community?

Flaig: Right now we have some open writing hours, so it's just a chance for people to come in and explore. So we're doing Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, from 6 to 10. And then one of our Saturdays, I think the 17th maybe, from 1 to 7, just to give people a chance to check us out, try it.

And in the back end, behind the scenes, we're getting ready to launch our “writerships.” It’s like a version of a membership. So that's where people can pay what you can, and then they get access to those hours, they can kind of pick times when they want to be here. And then as we work on our programming and stuff, they'll have access to all that. A lot of times, what I found is that people don't always have the space to write, but they do like the workshops stuff- and then you would pay each time you go to everything you attend. But your writership actually gets you entrance into all of those things. That's a big one.

And one of the questions that I originally wanted to ask you guys was, do you have to be a professional writer, or a self-identified writer, to come enjoy the space? Like you're saying you can be literally any level to come and create here?

Flaig: Yeah, I think the distinction for us is we spend a lot of time talking about what is a writer. And to us, if you write, you’re a writer, regardless of your skill level, experience, even if you just really wanted to do it and hadn't done it- now's the time. We have that space for you.

Dossett: Any kind of writing is welcome here. And we would love to help encourage you and help you build upon your skills and reach the goals and the direction that you're wanting to achieve with your creative endeavors.

Wilson: And after being, like, locked up for the last couple of years during quarantine I think that this is really like a haven for writers- where we don't have a place like this that exists outside of academia. And I think that what we're really giving people- and not just other people, like for me, as well- is worth so much more than anything else that we can offer. Just having that space where people can go as a safe haven.

I want to know- what were the main driving forces behind creating a place like this?

Flaig: I belong to a lot of industry associations, but we just don't have anything like that around here. There's not like a Writer's Association. I think we have pockets of things, but there's not that kind of formality. So I wanted to kind of combine all those things. And that's why I wanted a physical place, but I also wanted a place for education and community.

Dossett: It's really been a lot of fun so far, with our soft opening, just being able to see people at work doing what they love to do- writing, creating. And so far people have really enjoyed it. They've just come here, they've let loose, they create, they relax. And we've already had regulars. We've had books written here. And that is so awesome.

I know you guys are talking a lot about things like workshops and classes, things that you want to hold in the future. Do you have an idea of when Peoria can expect to start seeing those things?

Flaig: So we have our “Sheduary” coming up, and Sheduary is a combination of January and February- so that's when we're going to start rolling out the writerships, and we'll start rolling out some of our beginner workshops and just different things. We’ll start building up that programming so that we can, you know, start actually being more visible in the community.

My Writing Shed can be found at 716 W Main Street in Peoria on Instagram and Facebook @mywritingshed.

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