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.