Yesterday a writer friend asked in passing, “what to write about?” which got me thinking: how as writers, do we decide? What happens in those moments when – say – we’ve just finished the latest project, and can finally start something new. That dazzling white page, fresh black ink….
It’s a precious moment – a time of new beginning, a time when our ears can open to the opportunity of a new voice, a direction we may not even know we wanted – needed – to take. How to hear it?
What’s worked best for me has been to pay attention. Not just when I sit down at the desk, but all the time. The inspiration – or at least, the first poem – for the series I wrote on Glenn Gould came when I was watching a video on Cuban jazz. On Georgia O’Keeffe, when I was staring at a rock in New Mexico. On construction, from my journals and a simmering need to explore the challenges and joys of that time.
Yesterday a friend who was about to spend her first week at a newly rented, long longed-for retreat space, wrote in a moment of panic, “What if I just lie there, alone, moaning?” I think the secret is, (and my fingers are crossed as I say this because, after all, the moment of fact can be very different from the moment of theory), the secret is to be patient with ourselves. If the mind and body, on retreat, need first to lie still, alone, moaning, then that is what we must let the body and mind do. And perhaps, if it doesn’t abate, or evolve after some time, a walk, a conversation with a friendly crow, a pause under a blooming tree, might nudge us gently along. Or not. Then we must wait longer. And listen. And above all, be gentle with ourselves.