“Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience.” -- Ralph Waldo Emerson
In the years leading up to my college graduation, I took to reading writer self-help books. Besides the dictionary and Strunk and White’s Elements of Style, books like I’m an English Major – Now What? and The Well-Fed Writer began to appear on my shelves. With a bachelor’s degree in both English and Communication, I’d been dreaming of making a life for myself with a pen and love of literature since my early teens. But like any English major, by the time I graduated, I’d heard enough unsolicited advice to fully acknowledge the multiple (mostly economic) hurdles of an artistic life. I figured I could use any help I could get, self-help books included.
And as I read the various “how-to” books, I was struck by another perceived aspect of the writing life. It seemed Thoreau remained an anomaly. Anymore, the woods had been forgotten, while starving writers congregated in the metro area’s damp apartments, eating ramon noodles and wrestling with their less than lucrative muse.
While I never got too excited about Thoreau’s Walden, I do live in the woods of northeastern Minnesota in 12 x 20 shack with a “manfriend." Though our Shack is at least two-thirds again as big as Thoreau’s one-man cabin, there are plenty of parallels. We live a quiet life reflecting on observations and interests, removed to a certain degree (but far from completely) from the hustle of modernity.
Where there are people, there are opportunities; I understand why the city claims so many. Employment’s not easy in a rural area – especially one focused on the seasonal tourist industry – and a career that dovetails with your education is more often than not out of the question. So, in a precarious balance of finances and dreams, I work a seasonal job in the summer, currently waitress, and always spend my free time writing. The writing self-help books, with their advice on how to hawk your writing skills to your locally-based corporation, aren’t much help to me. I have a novel in its first edit and plenty of fictional works in progress. I also work on freelance articles, usually for the regional market.
I’m far from the only rural writer. For centuries, writers retreated to the peace and productivity of a country cottage. Thoreau, Jane Austen, Emily Dickinson were all rural writers. In recent years, Annie Proulx has achieved enormous success and Michael Perry’s writing of rural Wisconsin has been well accepted.
These writers have left huge footsteps to follow in and I can’t pretend I’ll be encroaching on their shadows any time soon. But they prove the best career advice for writers may in actuality stem from the American Transcendentalists Thoreau hobnobbed around with: to find what is inside by going outside and immersing ourselves in the beautiful. This blog serves as my personal study of writing and the rural life in a world run by metropolis. I don’t expect to find romance or glamour. In truth, I don’t know what I’ll find, so I’ll keep to this record of my experiences, a memoir of sorts, of woods and words