Tag Archives: writing

Creative Energy

Photo by Rohan Makhecha on Unsplash

It’s a topic I come back to many times, because it represents a core truth for me.

I can write only what feeds me, what gives me energy.

I watched many eager writers through a strenuous, two-year MFA program, and I was reminded again and again that one of the most important doors our students could learn to open was the one to their own best writing energy.

Sometimes what waits to be discovered is form, the particular form that speaks to each writer.  Not that any of us should be limited to one genre if our interest reaches wider, but there is usually a right place to start, novel or picture book or easy reader, nonfiction or verse.

Often what waits to be discovered, too, is a particular topic.  Many first novels are autobiographical because we all have issues rising out of childhood aching for resolution.  And what better way to resolve them than to create a person more capable of sorting them out than we ever were?

But after that start, after the first manuscript or two or three that mines the big stuff, how do we keep going?  For my part, I have learned to watch for anything that sizzles.  I don’t pick up an idea because it’s cute.  (That goes without saying.  Anyone who has read my work knows I have little interest in or skill for “cute.”)  I don’t take on a topic merely because I think it’s something I can sell.  I don’t even try out an idea because I believe it is important.

I immerse myself in a new project because it comes knocking on my brain with a certain electricity attached.

I am currently in a period of waiting for editorial notes on my latest novel.  While I wait I keep my hands—and my eyes—off the novel I’ve just sold so as to be able to approach it fresh when those notes come.  And so as not to go off in directions the editor won’t be expecting.

But I’m not just waiting.  I am slipping every day deeper and deeper into a pool of ideas.  Trying out my next project.

Some of the ideas I’ve tried out have let me know that they aren’t ready.  One, an early reader I started and abandoned years ago, came tumbling out of my computer and clicked this time.

But then I was back to the pool, searching for electricity.

One thing I found floating around was a young-adult novel I worked on a few years ago.  I had nearly 200 pages of a first draft and months and months of meticulous research when I ran out of energy and put it aside.

Very firmly aside.  When my agent, who had read those first pages, wondered why I didn’t return to it I had a half-a-dozen very solid reasons.

Recently, though, I found myself reading a YA novel in verse with an electric current running down my spine.  “What if?” I said to myself for the first time. “What if I tackled that abandoned novel again in verse?  Would that make a difference?  Would working in small pieces and different voices give the story more energy?  Would the different approach demanded by verse enable me to drop out some of the detail that overwhelmed me in my first draft?

And suddenly, character after character, verse after verse began to bloom in my mind.

Because that’s the way it works.  At least it’s the way it works for me.  When an idea is right it acts like a magnet gathering iron filings.  Everything . . . everything flies to the idea, enlarges it, energizes it.

The notes on the novel I’ve just sold will come, and I’ll find my way back inside that other energy that inspired a very different story and bring it to fulfillment.

In the meantime, though, in the meantime, I wake with my brain sizzling!

This . . . this is what I most need to say, to do, to be!

What greater privilege is there than being able to live and work where my deepest energy compels me?

On Being an Old Lady

Birthday chocolates

Photo by Monique Carrati on Unsplash

I try hard not to be an old lady!

By which I mean, I work at staying open to the changing world around me, making it a point to view the world with interest even in the midst of amazement.  I take care to refrain from criticizing change just because it is . . . well, change.  Just because the world has come to be so different from the one I grew up in.

My daughter, my daughter-in-law, my grandchildren, younger friends, all keep guiding me gently through multiple bewilderments.  Especially my daughter.  Especially the bewilderments that come with social media.

I am on social media primarily because my presence there reminds my readers that I’m not dead, that I’m still producing those rather old-fashioned things call books.  Truth be told, though, one of the marks of my old-ladyness is that other people do my posting for me, a service I am grateful for.

But occasionally I do post something myself, especially birthday greetings.  It’s one of the pleasures of social media to be reminded of birthdays and to be able to send my greetings so simply.  I’ve even learned how to pull up a pretty background to accompany my Happy Birthdays.  And the first time I managed to do that, I can tell you I was proud!

Standing so far outside today’s popular culture has its hazards, though, and every now and then those hazards catch up with me.  Recently, when I sat down at my computer, Facebook reminded me that it was my son-in-law’s birthday.  Of course!  I thought.  And I fired off a Happy Birthday.  Then I went looking for a background to highlight my message to someone I care about.

I found one.  The world in which the images float is brown, but not an unattractive brown.  And perhaps, I noted, brown is more fitting for a man—in a very traditional way—than the usual pastels.  The floating images against this backdrop are brown, too.  They look like a cross between Hershey’s kisses and the curly top of a soft-serve ice cream cone.

Perfect! I said to myself.  Everybody loves chocolate!

And I clicked my greeting into life and went on about my morning.

Until my daughter called.  “Did you know,” she said, “that you sent poop emojis to Terry for his birthday?”

Photo by Nicole Honeywill on Unsplash

No.  Of course, I didn’t know.

And then, to add insult to injury, I had to ask her to take time out of her busy morning to walk me through the process of deleting my well-intended message!

Sometimes old-ladyness is just what it is, no matter how hard I try.

And how grateful I am to have a daughter to watch over and rescue me!

Another Lesson

Photo by Anika Huizinga on Unsplash

Another lesson I’ve learned along the way is that there are no truly original ideas. There are no truly original plots. As the writer of the book of Ecclesiastes said three thousand or so years ago: “There is no new thing under the sun.” Except you. Except me. Every individual is new and unique, so we may be stuck with the same old plots, but because a new person is telling the story, bringing his or her singular life to bear on the story, it is fresh and new. So the only excuse I have for daring to write is that no one else in the world would be able to tell the stories that only I can tell. And an aside to those of you wishing to write — that is your excuse as well. The raw material for our unique stories is our unique lives and perspective on life.

 

Katherine Paterson

So Reckless and Opulent a Thing

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What we seek we do not find—that would be too trim and tidy for so reckless and opulent a thing as life.  It is something else we find.

Susan Glaspell

“So reckless and opulent thing as life”!

That phrase when I read it caught my heart . . . and held it.

Reckless and opulent, both.

How many hundreds of my mother’s eggs were cast away to make one me?  How many millions of my father’s sperm?

And yet here I am, alive, breathing.  I’ve been alive and breathing for eighty years.  A true miracle.  A reckless and opulent miracle.

But that’s the way life is.  Both reckless and opulent.

It works both ways, of course.  My son died at the tender age forty-two because nature’s opulent recklessness imbued him with a hidden flaw that played out in a neurological disease.

How often have I said it to myself?

“Nature is careful of the species, careless of the individual.”  “In any pod of peas, there will be an imperfect pea.”

Peter was my imperfect pea.

My oldest grandson, Peter’s oldest son, carries the same dark gift.

And yet my son’s three sons exist, each in his own way making a difference in the world.

Life, reckless and opulent.

Some mornings I am so filled with life’s opulence, its magnificent excess, that I rise into wonder.  Some evenings I crawl into bed weighed down with that same excess, overwhelmed by the day’s recklessness in all its light and dark manifestations.

But even when the weight is heaviest, looking out my study window at the superfluous abundance of the maple in my neighbor’s yard lightens me.   Sharing a home with someone I love beyond any telling of it comforts me.  Living, day after day, into the reckless gift of a brain programmed to do so much more than just keep me alive delights me.

What possible use does nature have, after all, for words shaped into meaning, into music?  And yet here I am!  How can I be anything but grateful?

Then there is the rest of the quote.

“What we seek we do not find . . . it is something else we find.”

What have I sought?  Safety, I suppose.  Above all else, safety.  I learned at my father’s knee that life is unfair, unreliable, even cruel, and my first instinct is always to move toward safety.

What have I found?

A world that makes no promises yet bestows the most profound gifts.

The gift of a son who dies.  The gift of a daughter who lives into the most graceful womanhood.

The gift of a career incapable of guaranteeing even food on my table.  And yet that career delivers . . . everything.  Purpose.  Belonging.  Satisfaction.  Joy.  Especially joy!

And food on my table, too.

I did not know enough even to search for what I have found . . . but here it is.

A world filled with reckless opulence!

Every now and then…

Photo by Simon Migaj on Unsplash

Every now and then go away, have a little relaxation, for when you come back to your work your judgment will be surer. Go some distance away because then the work appears smaller and more of it can be taken in at a glance and a lack of harmony and proportion is more readily seen.

                                                                          Leonardo Da Vinci