In defence of what you’re trying to do

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.

View from my room

View from my room

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.

Caught in the Banff Centre antlers
Caught in the Banff Centre antlers


My thanks to the Manitoba Arts Council for financial assistance for the week at Banff Centre.image001

9 thoughts on “In defence of what you’re trying to do

  1. LOVE this post, Dora. You make me want to start over as a writer and just focus on words and sentences. And sit in the antler chair.

    My overwhelming feeling on the week of book launch? I am just a beginner! Again.

    • Oh Shirley, you’ll do well in your launch(es), I know you will; if there’s anyone who inspires me with her attitude of life-long learning, no matter what’s already been accomplished, it’s you. And we’re all beginners, again and again and again. (Got your book in the mail yesterday, thanks, and for the lovely note. It looks great!)

  2. Hi Dora,

    Thanks for the glimpse into your week.  Sounds like it was a valuable experience.  Probably we all should take some time away once in a while to focus on what’s important to us. I have been thinking recently about what that might be for me but haven’t quite got a vision for it yet. Glad to hear you found it for yourself.



    • Good to hear from you, Susan. And I just noticed your “Seeker of Stars” is getting another life with a larger publisher; huge congrats. As you’ll remember, I loved that book!

  3. Aw, my longest-time writer friend never disappoints with her words – whether it be a blog, a short story, a novel, or other writing. I really do love the way you think, the way you view the “world” and how you let the rest of us get a little glimpse of that! I’m so glad you had a good experience in Banff.

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