Writing on writers

So why do writers write? The same question could be asked of any artist working in any medium. Why sculpt, why photograph, why design gardens or buildings? Farmers, preachers, teachers and tradespeople alike must consider their life’s work prior to undergraduate study or apprenticeship. At one time or another all of us must work to find out own particular way of participating in the local, national or global community as opportunity allows and initiative directs. As I age I enjoy the privilege of reflecting on my decisions regarding employment, hobbies, passions or other pursuits. If the young child is asked, “what do you want to do when you grow up” we elders wonder “why did I make certain decisions and follow particular opportunities?”

Back to the question: Why do writers write? The question occurred to me several times as I recently attended Word on the Lake (WOTL), a writers’ festival just down the road at the Sorrento Centre. As a neophyte blogger I wanted to improve my craft. I wondered how I  might publish in a more public manner. I asked myself the question, “what do I want to say when I write, and to whom?” One workshop leader suggested that I enter small competitions. She encouraged me to check out the work of recent winners and discern if there was a particular stream of writing which felt right for me. Readers of this blog will know I am eclectic in my interests. I write in many different tones including humour and slapstick. I love to laugh and to help others laugh, as I find much of life and people’s reactions to life quite funny). On other occasions I comment on some serious and weighty themes.

The writers I met write for a wide variety of reasons and for different audiences including children. Most would say they simply must write in order to feel alive. Remember Luther’s apocryphal statement at Worms (April 17, 1521): “Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me. Amen.” Writing is sometimes cathartic; at other times curious and inquisitive. Writing is often a forum for the sharing of wisdom and also a platform for complaint. Writers write because they have to. They certainly don’t write for money alone. Most WOTL writers have other employment, academic or otherwise, with which to pay the bills. Even the handful of presenters who have won major awards such as the Governor General’s Literary Awards would find it hard if not impossible to support themselves or their family on literary income alone.

I joined a number of workshops (comedy, publishing, short story writing) each which included samples of the presenter’s work. One story in particular stands out for me, “Kabloona Red” from Annie Muktuk and Other Stories by Norma Dunning  Norma is an Inuit writer raised in remote communities in Quebec though now based in Edmonton. She warned us that the story we were about to hear could trigger many emotions and possibly memories. The story describes a brutal act of sexual abuse perpetrated by a male priest. As with most of Norma’s work it speaks to her experience growing up Inuit coupled with descriptions of contemporary Inuit realities. She connects the memory of the abuse with the victim’s behaviour in the present. I have heard many such stories over the years. This story however, a dramatized experience of a couple of minutes in the telling, likely representing an hour or so in a fictional landscape was very hard to hear as a privileged, white, male Christian priest. It was a story I needed to hear; it bore not only the ring of truth; it formed part of my own participation in systemic racism. It exposed the presence of evil in our world; it chronicled the evil acts perpetrated by some men and women. Through such truth telling, life and death events are no longer shrouded by secrecy.

So why do writers write? Because truth needs a story to connect with the experience of the reader. Truth inhabits many forms. At WOTL there was also comedy and beauty. There were stories of love and struggle, stories of challenge and delight, stories as varied as those who wrote and performed them. Every time we sat down for a meal strangers became friends as one storyteller inspired another. Who knows how my own craft will develop in the next few years. I’ve discovered that writing is hard work; it is time consuming and demands an attention to detail. I was embarrassed to discover how poorly I had edited my own submissions for my Blue Pencil editing session. I am however willing to put the work in as I develop a number of creative projects before me.

Why does this writer write? Because I want to, and yes, I need to. Wish me luck!

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