The Born Freelancer Talks With Stuart Ross

This series of posts by the Born Freelancer shares personal experiences and thoughts on issues relevant to freelancers. Have something to add to the conversation? Your input is welcome in the comments.

StuartNewDenverToronto-born, Cobourg, Ontario-based freelancer Stuart Ross inspires many not just by what he says (in his various workshops and classes) or what he creates (in his various published works since the mid-1970s) but also by just being true to himself.

What I find especially inspiring is that he is a freelancer whose activities and endeavors are almost impossible to pigeonhole. He appears to have always followed his creative muses wherever they have lead him – fearlessly and without any apparent regrets. All the while he has found a way to make a living doing what he loves to do best.

Poet, essayist, editor, publisher, co-founder of the Toronto Small Press Book Fair, creative coach, writer-in-residence, lyricist and teacher are just a few of the diverse outlets for his vast array of multidisciplinary skills over the past forty years.

His published works are too numerous and varied to list here. (I’m not sure a complete bibliography of all his work even exists!) His first work appeared in print when he was age 16 and he has been busy at it professionally ever since. All share Stuart’s unique perspective and wicked, often dark, sense of humour. His latest collection of poetry to be published is entitled “A Hamburger In A Gallery“. Also recently published is his collection of essays about the frequently turbulent world of writing, “Further Confessions of a Small Press Racketeer.” It has already received greatly appreciative reviews.

I recently asked Stuart how he viewed his own professional status.

STUART ROSS: I’m a fiction writer too, and an essayist. I really want to think of myself as a story writer, but I think of myself as a poet. Professionally, though, I identify as a writer. If it’s a context in which I’m attempting to earn a living, I identify myself as an editor.

THE BORN FREELANCER: Do you recommend novice writers to focus in one area or to do as you have done — to branch out into multiple disciplines?

STUART ROSS: Well, if they want to make a living, they better do something else in addition to writing. But in terms of writing, I suggest they follow their interests. Whether their path is straight or sprawling is up to them.

TBF: You’re amongst fellow freelancers here so let’s deal with “the freelancing question” right away. Why did you choose the freelance life, or did it choose you? What are its primary advantages and drawbacks for you?

STUART ROSS: I took three runs at the freelance life before it took hold. Now I’ve been freelancing for about a dozen years. I like the variety of the work, the flexibility of schedule. I don’t like that there is no such thing as “outside of work hours.” I don’t like the unpredictable nature of the workflow/cash-flow.

TBF: Looking over your eclectic resume it feels impossible for me to single out a particular professional achievement as most representative of your creative life. So I’ll just ask you which one are you most proud of?

STUART ROSS: I can only give you one of the achievements I am most proud of. The poet David McFadden was my literary hero when I was a teenager. Eventually I met him, in Toronto literary circles. Many considered him Canada’s most beloved poet, but he had never won a major prize. We became friends, and a couple decades later I found myself editing a volume of his selected poems.

And now I’m working on my seventh book with him — six collections of poetry and a travel memoir. One of the books we worked on was shortlisted for the prestigious Governor General’s Award for Poetry, and two of them were shortlisted for the Griffin Poetry Prize — the world’s biggest poetry award. The first time he lost, and joked to me, “You could’ve edited the book better!” The second time, he won.

TBF: You are probably best known by most of your readers for your work as a poet. It is pretty rare to be able to make a living as a poet. Well, frankly, is it even possible? Can you describe how you got started?

STUART ROSS: Yevgeny Yevtushenko probably made a living in the Soviet Union before they turned against him. Not sure anyone else much has managed it. It’s certainly not possible in Canada. Everyone edits or teaches or cleans bathrooms or writes software or finds someone who will support them.

I started because I saw poems that excited me by E. E. Cummings, Stephen Crane, and by Donne and Tennyson, and I wanted to do what they were doing.

TBF: What do you think is the role of the poet in the 21st century? Has that role evolved or changed at all with time?

STUART ROSS: I think the role of the poet in North America is to write poems because that’s what she or he is moved to do, and secondarily, to create poems so that if anyone wants to read poetry, there it is.

I don’t think the role has particularly evolved in the past century. I don’t believe the poet’s role is to “reveal truths” or “reveal beauty” or change society. It’s to write poems, and whatever happens as a result, happens.

TBF: You have your own imprint. Was that meant to be any kind of an instrument for promoting your own work or was it another offshoot of your multiple interests?

STUART ROSS: My imprint with Mansfield Press, “a stuart ross book,” isn’t meant to promote my own work. I joined the press as an editor, and I wanted to set apart the books that I brought to the press from the books that the editor/publisher was bringing: to create my own line of books. Many literary presses have editors with their own imprints.

TBF: Getting to some of the nitty gritty of staying alive as a freelancer, has it been necessary for you to become an expert of social media? How is a writer to best promote themselves today?

STUART ROSS: In as unannoying a way as possible! I hate that, as writers, we now have to have expertise in self-promotion on a variety of platforms. I’m not expert at it. I do my best to casually draw interest to my writing on Facebook and Twitter.

TBF: As someone who has mentored many aspiring writers through your workshops, “boot camps” and creative coaching – and continues to do so – do you have any tips on how to tell in advance a good workshop from a not so good one?

STUART ROSS: I think one needs to look at who’s running the workshop, what that person’s experience is, whether that person is qualified or if he/she has just slapped a “workshop leader” sticker on his/her forehead. And then, of course, it needs to be a workshop that will either expand the freelancer’s abilities/toolbox, or focus on something the freelancer needs to strengthen.

TBF: Sounds like good advice. Speaking of which, Stuart, what is the best piece of advice you have ever received?

STUART ROSS: Larry Fagin, under whom I studied writing off and on for a while, told me to avoid cleverness.

Many thanks to Stuart Ross for taking time away from a busy schedule to answer our questions.

You can learn more about Stuart Ross and his most recent professional undertakings on his frequently-updated blog which is entitled (most memorably)

Posted on July 2, 2015 at 9:00 am by editor · · Tagged with: , ,

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