Saturday, May 4, 2019

Reading

The rhythm of the writing life is not always smooth and steady. There are bursts of productivity; there are lulls. There are times of research, revision, backtracking. There are times when an entire project gets shelved. And sometimes the words just won't flow at all.

What's more constant is my reading habit. No matter what's happening with the writing, I can always engage with stories as a reader. Sometimes I'm studying the craft by reading; other times I'm just immersing myself in the world that made me want to be a writer in the first place. 

I read widely, passing from poetry to long-form nonfiction to magazines to novels and back again. Woe to the people who ask what I am reading, because I will tell them. Do they want to hear about the memoir, the novel, the oral history, the biography, the book of poems, or the essay collection? I'm not even mentioning the news articles or blog posts!

I'm grateful such a feast is available to me. Anywhere from half to three-quarters of the books I read in a given year come from my local library; the books I buy are a mix of new and used. I also reread what's already on my shelves.

The first tip I give in any writing workshop I teach is this: read. But to me, reading is less the writer's obligation than it is the writer's great benefit, and joy.

Thursday, March 28, 2019

That special story

Over at YA Outside the Lines, we were asked to contemplate the question: How do you know if an idea is the one? Worth writing about? Worth making your next project?

I answered with a question that has helped me in the past: If you could only write one more story, what would it be? You can read more here.

Friday, March 8, 2019

For the record

I've been consolidating some old journals and for the past three years have been keeping a recent one, and what strikes me is how often a journal entry will cover something I've totally forgotten. Sometimes the entry sparks a memory--it is still there, though I haven't thought about it in years. Other times the memory stays lost. I might discover I went to a party on a certain night when I was 22, but still remember nothing about that party.

Writing captures so much that we might otherwise forget. I make a note today that the snowdrops are blooming now, a harbinger of spring--a small detail I'm sure I would never be able to date in the future without my journal. It's a choice, of course, what to record and what to leave out. Of all the moments I lived through today, I will capture only a few of them. I polished an essay, took a walk with a friend, noticed the snowdrops, ate a turkey sandwich. I don't know which of these details might matter to me in years to come, and we can't live entirely for the future anyway, can't preserve everything. 

So I write down the first things that come to mind--sometimes from world news, usually from my personal life. Sometimes major, sometimes trivial. I strew bread crumbs for my future self to follow. But it isn't only about the future. The act of jotting a few notes each day makes me pay closer attention to the present. It requires me to stop and observe, at least for a few minutes.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

A bend in the road

I was struck by the section in Anne Morrow Lindbergh's Gift from the Sea where she talks about midlife--with its changes, emptying nest, closing of some avenues--as a time less of decline than of potential. The time we often call a crisis is one she likens to adolescence, another time of change and often turbulence. She speaks of midlife as a "second flowering" whose changes may be "signs of growth" rather than decline. We may grow into "a new stage in living when, having shed many of the physical struggles, the worldly ambitions, the material encumbrances ... one might be free to fulfill the neglected side of one's self. One might be free for growth of mind, heart, and talent, free at last for spiritual growth ..."

I certainly have felt this shedding and these changes as a time of preparation, of making room for some new phase. L.M. Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables always spoke of a "bend in the road" when faced with uncertainty in the future (as opposed to those times when our next steps lie straight ahead, clearly foreseeable). I identify with that, too: midlife can bring a bend in the road, and it's possible to approach it with enthusiasm as well as trepidation.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Are you having any fun?

If you're like me, the responsibilities and the to-do lists never end. Even when I reach the end of one list, there's always something else I could be doing. Like getting a jump on the next to-do list.

But the chores will never end. So it's important to throw the list out the window every now and then. Or add to it something fun. Something that has no purpose other than pure amusement or relaxation. A day at the beach, or a museum, or a talk with a friend. Skiing, or playing that video game, or just curling up with a book you want to but don't have to read. A movie, a walk in nature--whatever it is, it's time.

I've never believed that life must be all drudgery and work. Even the proverbial ant should get to be a grasshopper now and then.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

The journey and the destination

"... I was sure my big break had arrived.  ... but again, it wasn't exactly the launch into stardom that I thought it would be. That's the thing about turning points: Facing a new direction doesn't mean there's not another long road in front of you."
--Franchesca Ramsey, Well, That Escalated Quickly

So many times we think we've "arrived." Now the magic begins! Now we'll be reaping the rewards of all that hard work! 

And often we find ... there's another whole patch of hard work. The "arrival" wasn't all we hoped it would be. But it's a sign of progress, at least. It's hard to know where we are on the journey while we're still in the middle of it. So we enjoy the milestones, and keep moving ahead.

(And if you're looking for a fun, thoughtful read on activism and social media, I recommend the book I've quoted here, which I obtained via library.)

Monday, January 14, 2019

Making room

We had snow over the weekend ... only about an inch, but it's been cold enough since that it has lingered many places.

So we walked through the woods, enjoying the light of sun through pine branches, the blue shadows of tree trunks striping the snow, the quiet. Winter is a great hiking season if you like peace and solitude.

It's a fitting season for weeding out old files, which is what I've been doing. So many decisions--do I need this? Where should I keep it? And to my delight, so many papers I can get rid of. Papers I once needed, or thought I needed. It's slow going, but I've set a goal to go through a few files each day. (I get through fewer when I hike, but then hiking's worth it.)

I want to make room. Room for what, I don't know yet, and that's partly the point. Room for the new and unexpected.