Our older cat, Squeaker, is in his new, insulated hut outside. He can keep warm and dry as well as keep an eye on what’s going on in the neighbourhood. Inside our house, it’s cozy and warm on a day that’s overcast, heavy with the possibility of more rain. Since the women’s writing circles are over until the new year, I’ve been appreciating the warmth from the words and stories left behind.
At one of the fall afternoon Writing Life circles, it was affirming to write “why I write” as the first writing practice we did.

Lately I’m realizing that I’m writing to make sense of a life lived. That afternoon in the writing circle, I wrote: “I write to feel the pen moving across the page, to taste life twice, to reflect on the day, to wonder in words, to record possibilities, to ask questions, to listen to myself, to write a life and save a life. I write to commune with myself, to connect, to tap into my own wise self, to express gratitude, to make lists, to immerse myself in the process.”

As Nanaimo writer Carol Matthews told me recently: “I don’t understand what I’m thinking or feeling until I’ve written it.” I can definitely relate and have been writing in journals for decades. That’s a daily practice and in those journals can be the seeds for poems, personal essays, this blog.

When I saw Carol recently she quoted from the last lines of Elizabeth Bishop’s poem, “One Art”:

Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan’t have lied. It’s evident
the art of losing’s not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.

For those of who explore what we’re feeling through writing, Write it! is our mantra.

The writing and the circle of women listening to one another on the particular day I have in mind, came at a good time. I had just received the mail with the return of a submission to a publisher. No big deal really as I look back on it but I had hoped they would ask to see more of the partial manuscript I had sent.

I was perturbed by the cover letter that referred to my “untitled” manuscript. My manuscript clearly had a title: An Inconvenient Blessing. The letter didn’t instill much confidence in their process. I wrote an email to the editorial assistant telling him that and got a friendly reply in which he sincerely apologized. He said: “Rest assured it had no bearing on our decision making process regarding your manuscript as that’s handled by another individual.”

I’m glad I wrote to him and got a positive reply as there have been so many letters through the years referring to manuscripts with the wrong titles and wrong genre, typos, misspellings. One time I received someone else’s manuscript and another, the letter called itself a “rejection” letter. Often these “editorial assistants” are writers themselves and really ought to take better care.

Now I’ll ask that particular project of short essays, what it wants to do next. Such is the writer’s life. Because it is a solitary vocation or occupation, I started writing circles in my living room twenty years ago. We write while we’re together and share our stories. Most of them go no further than that. It’s what I prefer: that caring and attentive listening. It’s probably why I haven’t pursued publishing all that much. I appreciate the witnessing in the circle and I also appreciate a shorter time line when it comes to writing and publishing. It’s really good to know these things about ourselves.

Last month, I held a salon for Alison Watt so she could come over from Protection Island and read from her new novel Dazzle Patterns (Freehand Book, 2017). It’s a masterful work, ten years in the creation, and it was a pleasure to talk with her about her writing, research and the creative process itself. As one of the women in attendance said, creativity isn’t linear.

And my friend Andrea Mathieson said that too of the writing project she’s been working on. She was actually referring to the feminine journey as serpentine.

I asked Carol Matthews why she wants to go beyond writing to publishing her work. She said for connection. And that’s what can happen when you share you work with a wider audience. I look forward to reading Carol’s new book called Minerva’s Owl: The Bereavement Phase of My Marriage (Oolichan Books, 2017).

When writers share the stories that have special meaning for them, we readers are touched by them and find out we’re not alone. In their vulnerability, writers have tapped into experiences and feelings shared by others. Poets put an end to silence and writers do too. When writers encounter their readers, they find it works both ways.

I appreciated reading what Ivan Coyote had to say about vulnerability in Tomboy Survival Guide (Arsenal Pulp Press, 2016) as it’s not what many of us first think about vulnerability shared on the page.

Ivan was responding to a letter received from a reader: “Yes. It is scary to write about private, painful things. It is terrifying, sometimes. Sometimes the only way I can make myself finish a sentence is to tell myself that no one will ever read it. To promise myself that I can erase that line immediately as soon as it is out of my head if I need to. Sometimes I do this. I often cry when I write about Difficult things, and feel the words heavy in me and on me after, sometimes for a couple of days. I worry what my mother will think. I wonder if I got it right, I worry that the reader will not take my words with the same heart that I had when I wrote them. I fret that I have left something out or that I’ve said nothing new. I lie in bed at night and deep breathe through the fear of my new words going out there on their shaky legs to be interpreted, critiqued, weighed, and displayed. But I don’t feel vulnerable. Writing about vulnerable things doesn’t make me feel vulnerable. Writing about my tenderest bits is the only way I know how to have power over them. Staying silent would leave me alone with them. My silence is what makes me vulnerable. My secrets are sharpest when I am the only one holding them. Writing them down turns all my secrets into something else. Something closer to strength.”

The writing path may be circuitous, and the time to birth a story in the world, lengthy. Letters from publishers may be irksome or even non-existent, but it would be a great loss if we didn’t have the stories I’ve read by these authors I have the privilege of knowing. “Secrets are sharpest” as Ivan Coyote wrote, when you are the only one holding them.

[The featured image is an illustration of William Carlos Williams at his writing desk in his Rutherford attic  from A River of Words: The Story of William Carlos Williams written by Jen Bryant, illustrated by Melissa Sweet (Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, 2008).]