How 7 nudges led me to my new project for the new year
A number of things late this year have been nudging me in a new direction for my writing. It started in November when I decided to go through a file called “Scribblings” to see just what I’d stuffed in there over the years.
“Scribblings” contained notebooks and loose pages; writing exercises I’d done with various classes and from books about writing; notes from talks I listened to and about projects I was working on or might work on some day. Sifting through the material was a big job and I booked myself a little retreat so I could focus on it and let my mind wander freely wherever the exercise took me.
I knew I wouldn’t be spending all my time reading this stuff, so I decided to take with me a book to supplement that reading, something that wouldn’t crowd my head with someone else’s creative output. Without much thought, I grabbed Mary Oliver’s A Poetry Handbook, which had been sitting on my shelf for some time, unread.
I loved reading what Mary Oliver had to say about sound, line breaks, and imagery, and some of what I came across in “Scribblings” read to me like poetry.
I loved the damp flap
of wash on the line
on summer mornings–
hiding under folds of wet sheets
as my mother with
her mouth full of clothespins
pretended not to know.
I began to see connections between snippets of this and that and felt an itch to try stitching them together in what I could already see had the potential to become quite an ambitious project.
The day after I got home, I happened to read my horoscope in the newspaper (I rarely do). Its last words were:
Embrace the new path you’re on.
Poetry for adults? Hmm.
I knew that poetry I’d attempted in the past wasn’t very good. I knew if I was to become a better poet, I needed to read more poetry.
Katherena Vermette’s river woman confirmed what I already suspected, that I’m drawn to poetry that doesn’t make me struggle for its meaning, like these lines from “an other story.”
they say all people were created equal
who cannot agree
I say I will believe it
when prison and poverty rates are the same
when thousands of your women disappear
and you do nothing
these things are not equal
the world is unfair
we all have to pull ourselves up
by our own bootstraps
make something of ourselves
but what about those who don’t
Powerful stuff and Katherena Vermette’s poem goes on from there.
Ursula LeGuin’s So Far So Good: Final Poems 2014-2018 contains some seriously thoughtful material too, as well as some fun word play.
gold of amber
red of ember
brown of umber
Along with the reminder these two books were giving me—that poetry can be so many different things—learning that Ursula LeGuin changed direction from novels and essays toward poetry late in her life, and sent her revised poems to her publisher ready for copy edit only a week before she died, provided me added encouragement to “embrace the new path” I seem to be on.
As if that wasn’t enough, the morning I finished So Far So Good, there landed in my Inbox a newsletter from an artist friend, Janice Mason Steeves, with a link to her blog post. Janice is working on a book about women who come to art late in life, and what she said about a ninety-two year old woman in one of her painting classes struck me:
Dorothy was not at all afraid to play and experiment. She wasn’t worried about making a product, about having an end result. She was there for the sheer enjoyment of making art.
Yes, I thought. Play with your new idea.
Around the same time, I came upon a link to a short film about a group of women who meet to swim in the sea every morning. I’m not about to do that, and not only because I live far from any sea. But I would like to be able to see myself as a woman prepared to do the equivalent, creatively speaking, even though, as one woman in the film says, “It’s not comfortable.”
I often don’t read captions on IG posts, especially if they’re long, but for some reason, I read what Cindy Cavanaugh (someone I wasn’t even yet following) had written:
… there is power in our ideas and intuition. When we listen, pay attention, and follow-through (italics mine), the creative sparks fly. One thing leads to another to another. We grow in our voice and our confidence.
I’m currently following advice I came upon in “Scribblings,” notes on talks by two writers who said not to rush into writing right away when an idea strikes. And I have a feeling that if I should land in a headspace one day where I feel incapable of following through with my idea (it happens), there will be something nudging me back on track. Perhaps it will be your encouraging comment on this post!
On one hand, poetry doesn’t seem like a total change of direction for me. Through my children’s books I’ve had lots of experience with precise language, searching out the best words and the fewest words needed to say what needs saying.
On the other hand, writing children’s books means leaving out what can be said through illustration, and poetry relies to a considerable extent on the language of imagery. But maybe another, apparently unrelated idea that’s been percolating for some time will help address this?
Exciting challenges lie ahead. Please wish me luck!
And tell me, what new paths are you looking forward to exploring in the coming year?
Kathy Stinson is the author of the classic Red Is Best and the award-winning The Man with the Violin. Her wide range of titles includes picture books, non-fiction, young adult fiction, historical fiction, horror, biography, series books, and short stories. She has met with her readers in every province and territory of Canada, in the United States, Britain, Liberia, and Korea. She lives in a small town in Ontario.
I loved reading how you were able to find a pattern in all these unconnected bits, and look forward to seeing what comes of it. I’ve had some similar “aha” moments recently as well, and it’s always exciting.
Thank you, Janet. It’s always good to know our brains are still capable of finding patterns and “aha” moments too. I’ll be interested to see where yours take you too.
Kathy, you are so inspiring!
What an amazing new adventure. I love how you are eager to challenge yourself and explore a new path. You’re inspiring me to do some thinking now.
A bit of trepidation mixed in with that eagerness, Paule — just so you know!
Happy to know I’ve inspired you. I’d love to hear where that takes you!
I know you can do it, Kathy, I can’t wait to read your poetry!
I’m involved in writing in my field of Suzuki teaching. I want to develop that more. We’ll see where that takes me. I have some ideas percolating…
Percolating is good, Paule.
And thanks for your vote of confidence!
How exciting for you Kathy! You are so poetic in your children’s books so I don’t think this will be a difficult stretch!
I am stretching myself as well… ironically in the opposite language. I’ve decided to try writing for adults. I’d appreciate all the support and luck in this new venture as well.
P.S. I do believe we might be closer now. I moved to Eden Mills this fall!
Thank you, Tara. That’s a lovely thing for you to say.
All the best with your new steps into writing for adults.
We are closer now and I sometimes walk the road between our towns so we may just see each other out there one day. Hope you’re loving your new home.
Wonderful YOU. What am I looking forward to? Being able to return to my Indigo/Yorkdale Children’s Department to once again feature, recommend and sell stellar Canadian books for Kids and Y.A.’s.
Oh Wendy, I hope for your sake all for all of us you support with your recommendations, that that will happen soon!
As young women we push as much into a day as we can. There are no end of tasks and we strive to do them all well. It’s as if we have something to prove. But with age comes a freedom we never had before and finally we can open ourselves to ourselves and comfortably explore who we are. Enjoy the journey.
Thanks for this thought, Kristin. Freedom to explore is a privilege I do not take for granted!
Best wishes on your new endeavour Kathy. Don’t forget the Joseph Campbell quote (I have this up in my office as I”m writing my book)
“I have found that you have only to take that one step toward the Gods and they will then take ten steps toward you. That step, the heroic first step of the journey, is out of, or over the edge of your boundaries, and it often must be taken before you will know that you will be supported.”
What a wonderful quote, Janice. Thanks so much for sharing it here. And all the best with each step you take in *your *book.