I visited Joan Skinner recently at her home in Pleasure Cove, just outside of Pugwash, to talk about her writing practice. Joan has a thoughtful way about her. Like she has the key to the chamber of secrets or the answer to one of life’s mysteries. There is a calm sureness that puts you at ease, an openness to share her insights about writing and invite you to do the same.
Joan diligently writes all the time. She can’t not. She feels off balance without it. And it doesn’t matter what time of day it is. Joan remembers that she was in grade 9 when she first started getting up in the night to write. She has never been a good sleeper, so using the dark hours when everything is hushed and still, works perfectly for her. Solitary by nature, Joan needs the quiet to create. Not surprisingly, the serenity of her home, with views of the Pugwash Estuary and the changing natural world, seems the ideal environment to nurture Joan’s need to write.
A turning point in Joan’s writing life was when she met NB writer/educator Anne Mitton in 1992. They were both teaching in Fredericton. Anne encouraged her to share her writing and, although she was intimidated, Joan overcame her resistance. Their resulting friendship/mentorship began and continues to this day, with Anne encouraging and guiding Joan to acknowledge her own creativity. Joan now recognizes that this creativity is evidenced not only in her writing but in how she lives her life.
Initially Joan put pressure on herself to write. Now, she has learned to be patient with the process. She often has to literally walk with an idea, letting it simmer, talking to herself, working out the possibilities – a walking meditation – until she is ready to put pen to paper. It just flows out of her at that point, mostly in the form of poetry or short short stories (sometimes called postcard stories or flash fiction).
PAYING ATTENTION – OBSERVING
Joan considers writing, an ‘invitation to self’. She doesn’t write for a reader, but for herself. Even when Anne challenges her with written or visual prompts, Joan will often deviate from the initial idea, trusting her instinct in service of the story or poem. She has no desire to be published even though her mentor has often urged her to share her work to the world at large.
Along with her mentor’s writing, Joan admires and has been influenced by the work of
- Irish teacher/poet John O’Donohue, https://www.johnodonohue.com/
- beloved award-winning American poet Mary Oliver, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mary_Oliver
- American poet Emily Dickinson, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emily_Dickinson
- Canadian writer Aldon Nowlan https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alden_Nowlan