Musing in Work Boots
Iconic singer-songwriter Joan Baez has said that when she writes songs, the words just “crawl down [her] sleeve and come out on the page.” In a similar vein, I’ve heard this or that fiction writer claim that once the story kicked in, it just ‘wrote itself.’ Or that the characters ran away with the story and the author became a mere conduit, a sort of secretary transcribing the movements and words of these upstarts formed from syllable and syntax, adjective, verb, and noun, who then leapt off the page. Such notions make writing sound easy and if the words slide down the songwriter’s sleeve and onto the page, I’m delighted for her as I am for any Fictionista whose characters step up to do the heavy lifting. For most of us, though, writing is hard work. There’s no auto-pilot, no cruise control, no real shortcut. If any of you editors, contributors, or readers of The Fieldstone Review has found a way for your story or essay or poem to ‘write itself,’ please Facebook me immediately. I want to know what computer program you’re using, or substance you’re smoking. If writing really, truly ‘wrote itself,’ wouldn’t there be many more writers? At the risk of coming off as gloomy, my own predisposition follows more closely along the lines of poet Louise Glück’s contention that “[t]he fundamental experience of the writer is helplessness.”
I don’t think this is as bad as it sounds. A sense of helplessness may impel us to get to work by triggering an enabling humility, a critical stance, or a feisty aggression towards the compositional task at hand. The first students in the new two-year MFA in Writing at the University of Saskatchewan are now working on the book-length projects that will be their theses in poetry, fiction, or creative non-fiction. My hunch is they won’t tell you writing is easy. Still, they write. There are stories to be told, poems to be penned, language to be mined, imagination to be tapped.
Magazines don’t ‘edit themselves,’ either. Putting together a magazine involves real labour and I commend the editors of The Fieldstone Review for bringing this publication back into the light again. It will provide a lovely venue for writers at the University of Saskatchewan and beyond. Writers need venues. Venues make us feel less helpless.
Notice that Louise Glück said “helplessness,” not “loneliness.” Yes, it can be lonely being a writer. But the editorial collective of The Fieldstone Review is an anti-lonely brigade, a community, hub, pre-emptive strike against isolation, just as being situated in a literary culture as rich and varied as Saskatchewan’s affords us an artistic home. Home is our stay against helplessness. If we have an artistic home, whether virtual, physical, metaphysical, or some combination thereof, we’re not entirely forsaken, over a literary barrel, up a compositional creek without a paddle. We share this home with others. The Fieldstone Review and all the intrepid writers at the University of Saskatchewan bear tangible witness to our collective labour; even as I type this, I can hear work boots thunking their determined daily paths along the floor to the writing desk.