Before I get completely submerged under the ripe tomatoes, ditto the grapes and the five-gallon pail of apples, plus the story I’m writing, I want to say something about last week.
I spent it at the Banff Centre in an intensive focus on short fiction led by Alexander MacLeod, literature professor and author of the Giller short-listed collection Light Lifting. I’ve never taken a writing retreat or week-long writing course, so I’m still feeling like a girl on her first trip to Disney. It’s a bit of a wonderful bubble one goes into, for sure. But the Disney analogy ends now: there’s nothing Minnie Mouse about carefully, brutally workshopping others’ writing (that is, learning to read), or being workshopped just as carefully and brutally. We all knew, of course, and tried to remember, this was where the benefit (a.k.a love) lay.
The name of the week was Writing with Style but I’m not going to talk about the various style points we discussed (characterization, POV, structure, etc.), except to quote from my notes: “style is the miracle, not even close to being exhausted” and “style is difficult!” I won’t talk about the inspiration and distraction that was the fine weather and beauty of Banff either. I’ll just say that what I appreciated most was the approach. This week would be about story itself, A.M. said, not about what happens to it in the world. In other words, an entire week thinking about writing quite detached from issues related to publishing, promotion, or our place in author constellations. It’s not that the changing nature of publishing, the (apparent) need to self-promote, the future of print, copyright issues, and such, aren’t relevant. But, I hadn’t realized until I was free of these concerns for a week how anxiety-producing, absorbing, and ubiquitous they can be.
So, if an intensive writing workshop can also be a kind of devastation (of story drafts we brought along eagerly, hopefully) it was a devastation that brought us back to the heart of it: the idea that what we’re producing is literature, that good stories matter, that story is the object of our care. The point was to write stories worthy of the label, stories we’d want read — even if our names weren’t attached to them. “It’s not about you,” A.M. reminded us more than once.
“You chose it [the short story],” he also said, “and I’m a great defender of it.”
To have for one week a solid, threading-through-everything defence of what you’re trying to do, of the story you’re trying to get hold of, is tremendously worth the time away. Especially when you hadn’t known, upon arrival, how deeply you needed it.