Sometime this past winter, Sarah Johnson, a graduating student at the Vermont College of Fine Arts, snuck out to a sheet of ice by College Hall and did some spontaneous editing: she changed the first three letters in the word skate so that a posted warning by the pond now read, Write at Your Own Risk. Sarah took a photo of her stealthy revision, and when we saw it, the title of this blog was born.
Each of us who will be posting here (see our roster to the right) is a faculty member of the college’s MFA Program in Writing for Children and Young Adults. And all of us love the idea that our title is the result, not of a committee meeting (we tried that and nearly came to blows), not of a Google search (all our ideas were taken, anyway), but of an impulsive, funny, nervy prank — a risk. And isn’t that what writing is all about? We pen pushers may not be able to do a triple lutz or a double axel. We don’t get up from our desks with bloody knees or finish the day with sprained ankles. But rest assured, we take chances every time we sit down to work. When a writer crawls into her characters’ skins, feels what they feel, experiences what they do, she invariably draws on her own traumas and joys, hurts and triumphs to feed the journey.
And while it’s an awful pun, it’s also true that most of that journey is across very thin ice: the alchemy of storytelling is that it transmutes the particular to the general; the more of ourselves we put into a story, the closer to the bone our readers will feel it. And the good bad news is, it never ends. We risk everything all over again each time we start a new story, a new book. What kind of skater would play it safe, performance after performance, doing the same routine each time out? And what kind of writer asks questions he’s already answered, takes his readers where they’ve already been? Not our kind. Not yours.
So remember when you leave the comfort of the edge and skate out into the middle of that smooth, trackless ice, you’ve got plenty of invisible company. That’s why we started this blog: we can’t go where your courage leads you, and we can’t take your falls for you. But the field notes from our community of practice may help you keep the faith. You write at your own risk, yes. But don’t be surprised, when you’ve hit a rough patch and taken a messy half gainer, if you feel someone lift you up, brush you off, and set you on your way again — a little more prepared, a little less alone. From Louise Hawes on behalf of the WAYOR bloggers.