On Writing and Vulnerability with Sarah Caley
The first time I participated in a creative writing workshop was in my final year of undergrad at Wilfrid Laurier University. I had finally gathered the courage to take the creative nonfiction course, after years of telling everyone around me that “I am not a creative writer.”
I came to the workshop prepared with my first assignment—a personal essay about my ambivalent relationship with boyfriend t-shirts and my body image. Writing the piece felt relatively natural, but my heart jumped into my throat when I was told it was my turn to read my piece aloud. With a clammy hand, I clicked the unmute button. As I read, I felt desperately out of breath.
During my time as Circulation Assistant at The New Quarterly, I have been on the other side of this exchange. In the past six weeks, I have been responsible for processing countless submissions. I have read everything from blog posts to proofreading the upcoming issue. I even had the opportunity to read the current cycle of CNF submissions.
And in all this reading, I have seen so many people who are willing to put their writing out into the world. I have seen them create meaning out of ideas and experiences I never would have thought to write about. But above all, I have been most affected by the emotions these pieces have stirred. I have read short stories that unsettle me in the most satisfying of ways, and personal essays that wash a warmth over my body.
To write is to reach out to another and ask them to feel the way you do, which is why it is so incredibly scary to share your writing. In the academic essays I was used to writing, you want your reader to understand your opinion. In a memoir, you want the reader to understand what you felt in a particular moment of your life. Writing is vulnerability because it is an act of human connection.
“Does this make sense?” was the most frequently asked question in my creative nonfiction class workshops. While this question was a kind of running joke, there is a very real motivation behind it—as writers, we want to ensure that human connection is being made. And while no one really wants to hear that their submission has not been accepted, it is perhaps just as scary to receive a “yes” response. A “yes” means that your writing will go off on its own, and you will be left to wonder if your readers are connecting with you.
As I come to the end of my time at TNQ, I will also be completing my master’s program, and I don’t plan on immediately pursuing more education. I must now have the bravery to go out into the world, and to share my own writing. But the word I’m looking for here is not quite bravery—it is more of an openness or a self-acceptance. Making peace with vulnerability. And I have been emboldened by the vulnerability I have seen at TNQ.
There are stories that I am afraid to write, but I am both comforted and terrified by the knowledge that someday, I will write them.
Sarah Caley recently completed her term as Circulation Assistant at TNQ as a practicum position for her master’s degree in English and Film Studies at Wilfrid Laurier University. She is an aspiring arts and culture journalist and creative nonfiction writer.