We heard about Firefly Creative Writing a couple of years ago and fell instantly in love. The mission of creating a safe space for people to come home to their writing voice is something we feel is so needed in our world. So many people rush from place to place, task to task, belonging to belonging. And for many of us, it is only in those quiet, sacred moments, when we are fully able to hear our inner voice and discover how we really feel and what we truly want.
Chris Kay Fraser like most Creatives, started this business in a quiet way. She started teaching local workshops in the spare room of her house. Every week she arranged the pillows, made cookies and tea, and invited people to explore their own hearts and minds in a cozy environment. And since Chris is a badass writer and coach, over time the business grew. She faced her fears, expanded her offerings into memoir, fiction and poetry workshops, and eventually starting offering online workshops as well in order to serve a larger audience. She found likeminded souls with complimentary talents and expanded her team to now include two more amazing writing coaches and an office manager.
Today Firefly Creative Writing is at yet another important crossroads of expansion. We sat down with Chris to talk about why this is so scary and so wonderful all at once.
Tell us about expanding into online workshops? Why was that hard, and what surprised you?
Honestly, at first we started our online writing classes with the goal of expanding our reach geographically. I wanted to work with people outside Toronto as well as people who couldn’t leave their homes and people for whom our workshop space was a barrier. We thought it was that simple.
As soon as we started I realized that the anonymity of an online group seems to help people to connect. I thought it would be watered-down version of an in-person class, and in some ways there’s truth there — I do miss being able to see people’s eyes, to read the room and guide the curriculum with that intuition you get from being close to people physically. But there’s this other thing that happens online. People are often able to connect with themselves and each other without the clumsiness of being face-to-face. For some people, I think it’s an even safer space for taking chances, being honest, being brave. They can also be more emotionally available, encouraging and generous with each other. At the end of the day, there’s just something very freeing and pure about being able to do writing exercises in your jammies while eating yogurt.
What’s been the most uncomfortable part about expanding your business?
I hate raising prices. Ug! I loathe it. When I started I just desperately wanted people to show up, and the numbers reflected that. Now I want people to show up, but I also want some basic, nice things in life, like being able to pay vet bills for my dog and being able to eat organic veggies. I was being really scrappy with myself in those early years. When I hired people the need to change became really clear, like “Okay I don’t mind treating myself this way, but I’m sure not going to treat them like that.” I had no doubt that they needed to be able to afford a decent life, and by extension that I did too.
My grandfather was a minister. I see our paths as very parallel. His job was to create a space where people could connect more deeply to themselves and each other and something bigger — God. He did that through the church, and so the church took care of him; gave him a house, a salary, and so on. My job is to create a space where people can connect more deeply to themselves and each other and something bigger — creativity. I do this through a business. So I need to always be determining the worth of my offerings and asking people for money, even when what I really want is to just DO the work. I enjoy it sometimes, the same way as he might have enjoyed brainstorming fundraising campaigns, but I never do it for the money, and I often wish the money wasn’t in the way at all, so we could just focus on the work, and mostly, so that I could work with everyone who felt the call to join in.
Since inclusion is your goal, have you ever considered going for a non-profit status?
We thought about it, but the structure of a non-profit is really not right for us. Maybe this is greedy, but it’s my baby! It’s my dream. Handing that over to a board of directors doesn’t feel true to that.
There’s also this misunderstanding that non-profits are good and businesses are bad. It’s just not true. The hard part for us is that in Canada there’s really no public money for businesses, so we can’t, say, apply for grants to run free workshops for newcomers to Canada or women in prison or any of the other populations we’re passionate about serving. We struggle with that. We’ve tried getting some more high-paying corporate gigs to cover the cost of doing community based work, but we haven’t been super-successful at making that happen, probably mostly because our hearts aren’t in it. We continue to struggle with that one.
What’s next for you guys?
Well, the big exciting thing now is our house hunt. We’re ready for a dedicated Firefly space. Since we started we’ve been running most of our workshops out of the sunroom in my house. In this way, Firefly has been my friend, lover and roommate for over 9 years. But now, it’s finally time for Firefly to fly the coop and set itself up elsewhere.
To help us search, we turned it into a home-hunt contest. Whoever finds us the winning lead will get to use the space as their own private writing studio for eight days over the next year. It feels good to reach out to our community in this way, to include them in this big change.
We’re looking forward to hosting silent drop-in writing days, guest facilitators and of course, our very favourite thing — more writing workshops.