It’s the secret of life, I suppose, discovering where our own deepest energy lies and learning to reach into it, to mine it, to live it.
It’s certainly the secret of any kind of writing that must be spun out of the substance of our own psyches.
When I was young, I overflowed with ideas, and I wasn’t surprised when I picked one up to find the energy to fuel it attached. I never asked myself why I wanted to write a particular story. I just knew I did.
The story called to me, and I rarely understood where it had come from until long after it had made its way into the world. I only began to discover what my story had to do with me when readers, more objective and therefore more clear-eyed than I, told me what I had said.
And through their discernment and through the questions I asked myself fed by that discernment, I began to be aware of the sources that feed my work.
I have been writing stories for young people, from babies to young adults, for a long time. I have, in fact, written myself into old. Old is, curiously enough, a destination I never really thought I would reach. Mostly because our society teaches us that if we just will it to be so, we will never truly age.
For those coming after me, I’ll offer this small piece of wisdom. Old is real and, unless we’re rescued through an early demise, it is also inevitable.
Old finds me searching for energy, not because I have run out, but because the energy I possess is no longer spread across so wide a field. I can no longer pick up a story idea and find the fuel to propel it to its conclusion automatically attached. And yet, the energy itself is still there, just stored in a deeper and less conspicuous place.
Recently, I encountered the work of two different women ahead of me on the path who refer to their 80’s as a time of great passion. Such a curious idea to hold against our society’s image of the withering of age! Even I, standing on the edge of 80, couldn’t help but wonder what they could mean.
But I’m beginning to understand. The passion they speak of is a core that goes deep, the distilled essence of a long life, stretching all the way back to early childhood. And while it doesn’t stand up and call attention to itself the way younger passions do, once tapped into, it is rich . . . rich.
The trick, though, is to find the source to tap.
I have always fed my writing with reading. I don’t know any writer who doesn’t do the same. Stories, after all, aren’t truly an imitation of life. They are an imitation of other stories.
Old, though, has turned me into a persnickety reader. I approach each book with an almost too-discriminating hunger. I find myself searching for something richer, deeper, less predictable, less ordinary than most of what falls into my hands. I can almost hear my mother saying, “If you’re not willing to eat what’s on your plate, you can’t truly be hungry.” But I am. I am.
I order up samples of electronic books, books chosen because they were recommended by someone whose opinion I value or because they have won awards. And time after time after time, I read to the end of the sample and turn away, still searching.
Old has turned me into a persnickety writer, too. I keep reaching for a form I’ve never tried before, a thought I have never thought before, and with more than 100 books published, I can tell you that’s a reach. I find myself longing for a voice that I can feel reverberating but cannot name, for a story that asks questions I have not yet formed.
And yet the energy behind that undiscovered story still burns strong.
The answer to having written myself into old? I don’t have one. Not yet anyway.
Only to keep searching for that perfect book to read, the one that nourishes so deeply that it will propel me back into my own work.
Only to keep searching for the perfect container for my words, the one that will draw out the fire buried in my soul.