Stranger at the Door: Writers and the Act of Writing

Stranger at the Door: Writers and the Act of Writing

Stranger at the Door: Writers and the Act of Writing

Stranger at the Door: Writers and the Act of Writing


At the beginning of a new writing project - whether it's the first page of a new novel or a less ambitious project, writers often experience exhilaration, fear, or dread. For Kristjana Gunnars, the call of a new project is ''like someone you don't know knocking on your door-- you either choose to let the person in or not. It's both exciting and dangerous to start a new manuscript.'' This book is an engagement with that stranger called writing. Creative or imaginative writing is a complex process that involves more than intellect alone. Writers make use of everything: their sensibilities, history, culture, knowledge, experience, education, and even their biology. These essays seek out, and gather into a discussion, what writers have said about their own experiences in writing. Although the writers are from around the world and of very different backgrounds, the commonality of their remarks brings home the realization that writers everywhere are grappling with similar problems--with the seemingly simple problems of when, where, why, and what to write, but also larger questions such as the relationship between writer and society, or issues of privacy, appropriation, or homelessness. While none of these questions can be definitively answered, they can be fruitfully discussed.


“It is necessary to be alone,” Thomas Merton wrote in the first draft of his essay Day of a Stranger:

to be not part of this, to be in the exile of silence, to be in a manner
of speaking a political prisoner. No matter where in the world he may
be, no matter what may be his power of protest, or his means of
expression, the poet finds himself ultimately where I am. Alone,
silent, with the obligation of being very careful not to say what he
does not mean, not to let himself be persuaded to say merely what
another wants him to say, not to say what his own past work has led
others to expect him to say. (18–19)

In so many words, Merton collapses the solitary and the poet. To live at one with nature is to be at one with yourself but also to be like a “political prisoner.” Those are also the requirements for the poet. There is something profoundly similar in what ascetics and hermits like Merton, and poets like Jacques Dupin, have to say about their needs. One is led to believe, at almost every turn, that the vocation of prayer and meditation and poetry are almost the same. When speaking of the poet Jacques Dupin, for instance, Paul Auster writes in an essay on him which is included in his collection The Art of Hunger, that the poet puts everything away, even his clothes, and addresses the world in nakedness. For the poet, “the poem is a kind of spiritual purification” (182). Authenticity and being alive to the present moment are what both the writer and the solitary need. Thomas Merton is certainly not alone in making the connection between solitude and writing. Closer to home, Saskatchewan writer Sharon Butala says something similar in her book The Perfection of the Morning. In her essay “Telling the Truth,” Butala tells us that the creative process resembles meditation. She writes: “I see myself trying to be still enough and pure and quiet enough that I will become a hollow vessel through which ‘the angel’—which I conceive of as the Creative Flow—will speak” (11).

Notes to chapter 1 are on p. 107.

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