The mystery of storytelling
The creative act of reading

The magic of the writer's craft

Path to the woodland gate

For Day 3 of Ben Okri Week, some thoughts on the writing process from his essay "Newton's Child," with a walk through the Devon woods among bluebells, poppies, and other wildflowers. Tilly, once again, is the Animal Guide who leads us to Faerieland....

Woodland gate

"Some writing is forceful, ambitious, and immediate," says Okri, "it is all there, it is sensual. Another kind of writing appears simple, does not add up to much on the page, and performs no somersaults. We think one kind of writing is better, but we are sometimes wrong, and sometimes right. When they work, both kinds of writing are gifts, and both can be magical."

Woodland wall

Woodland wall with bluebells

"The best kind of books...have a delightful mystery about them. They inexplicably create powerful feelings, images, moods, worlds, and parallel narratives the farther away in time you are from the reading.  They grow in time. They keep re-creating themselves in your consciousness, they keep growing, they keep becoming other books, till they become part of your experience, like something lived, or dreamed, or loved, or suffered.

"Further encounters with such books make them more. There is no final point of understanding with books that live."

Woodland path with bluebells

"Their effects cannot be aspired to. And writers can never be altogether sure that they have indeed created this rare and living thing. For their mysterious effect can only be felt silently, in the secret chambers of consciousness, in the depths of sleep and forgetfulness, in states of being where the magic of the words can work unseen."

Wild poppies

Woodland bluebells

"The highest kind of writing -- which must not be confused with the most ambitious kind -- belongs to the realm of grace. Talent is part of it, certainly; a thorough understanding of the secret laws, absolutely. But finding the subject and theme which is in perfect harmony with your deepest nature, your forgotten selves, your hidden dreams, and the full unreasonated essence of your life -- now that cannot be reached through searching, nor can it be stumbled upon through ambition. That sort of serendipity comes upon you on a lucky day. It may emerge even out of misfortune or defeat. You may happen upon it without realizing that this is the work through which your whole life will sing. We should always be ready. We should always be humble. Creativity should always be a form of prayer."

Moss and bluebells

"You cannot write well when you have no feelings and no thoughts on the subject. Perhaps when we have to write to order the ill-used creative self, bored with the business of irrelevant and joyless tasks, will simply refuse to come alive when you really need it. You could call the business of developing faulty internal relations."

Woodland path

Among the bluebells


The Fairy Tree

"There is no need to panic. The intelligence that shaped the universe shaped you. There is an inner part of us, forever obscured, forever mysterious,  which is most alive during the process of composition. And that inner part, that inner glow, is timeless, and it functions beyond time. It drinks from deep waters. It has the stillness and the dance and the radiance of the firmament. When one is most absorbed in the act of creation one almost feels that one is wandering in the great corridors of all minds. Creativity makes us part of it all. "

Still life of wildflowers, coffee, and book

The bench beneath the plum treePhotographs above: A walk through the woods early yesterday morning; a still life of wildflowers, coffee, and book; and Tilly on the bench beneath the plum tree in the studio garden...posted on a day when rain drums on the studio's tin roof and keeps us quietly indoors. The poem in the picture captions come from Lisel Mueller's gorgeous collection of poetry The Private Life. Ben Okri's "Newton's Child" can be found in his essay collection A Way of Being Free, pictured above. A previous post also discusses the ways that good books unfold over time: "In praise of re-reading."


Yes and yes, that is all I can say, and all I did say over and again as I read these beautiful words. I deeply agree with them. And I love so much your photographs, they really do pass on a sense of the spirit of that place.

Thank you so much, Sarah.

I want to recommend your most recent post on "elemental writing" to Myth & Moor readers, as I absolutely love it:

Greetings, Something changed in me when I read the words given by you Terri, somewhere a hunger subdued for sometime rose up like a storm, unleashing itself until tuckered out. I see now why I fail to create what I want to say, for I have lost the hunger and the feelings attached to it as a bevy of goblins hiss at me and I stride away my eyes like wild plums hidden in the night. Thank you for the article, and for the photographs. I journey somewhere when I look at them. Hope you are feeling heaps better and that Tilly is enjoying her walk and I look forward to next you write for us. I do appreciate your time.

Thank you again. I love the beauty of the language but I am so happy with the encouragement.

"the process of composition. And that inner part, that inner glow, is timeless, and it functions beyond time. It drinks from deep waters."
Such beautifully gleaned words from Ben Okri today, Thank you Terri. One of my teachers tells me "Blue is the ancient color of love," deep ocean waters -- our Ancient Ancestor. Waking up to your post I drink blue.

So glad you are up and about with the Muse, and grateful I am, to have your thoughts and words so generously shared!

This resonates with the fact that I return to some books again and again. The characters/atmosphere nourish something the requires repeated visits. Your Wood Wife is one of those books. It changed my entire perception about the desert.

Because the story is life. And life is different for each of us. And life changes.

I very much enjoyed your post, Sarah. Terri, thanks for the rec.

I'm stuck recently on an idea for a story that seems to require more of me than most. In particular, I keep oscillating between a specific voice and wanting to offer something more wide and open, all inclusive. Ah well, I'm full of riddles today, but this post is helping me sort through them. Thanks, as always, and best wishes.


Creativity should always be a form of prayer.
Ben Okri

The moment unhooks her corset of wind
and leaves its blue bells dangling
in still air. Her body becomes light
stretching through the trees
and beneath stream water absorbing
the story that takes shape

from whatever shadow
enters the scene, whatever scent
breathes through the ribs
of bulrush or willow, whatever spirit
webs briar and broken rock.

Disrobed and radiant, the moment
settles into her subtle craft -- waiting
for a voice, a hand and quill
to turn the greenwood's flesh
into words. A prayer, a song --
an act of creation.

Hi Terri

These pictures remind me so much of the woods behind my former or childhood home in New York. I can still feel the moss padding
the stone wall fence, the thick roots of trees laddering the uphill path, the vines circling around the trunks with large leaves and small flowers tasseling the wind. And it was indeed a place where
the magic of storytelling could be felt and imbibed. A place where the ancient and the unseen made you feel part of a myth or at least some part of fantasy's dimension. Thank you for these photos and for allowing Tilly to be our virtual, spirit guide through this sylvan retreat!!.

My Best

Thank you, that is so kind.

Another radiant poem, I think about the muse, with many changes and need to be free.
Just galloping with glory! Cant wait for your poetry in a book. This is a keeper.

A very strong one, Wendy. I like the brevity that gives the delicacy of the subject matter real muscle.

*blush* Thank you.

The stories that require the most of us are always the ones worth writing. Whether they fail or succeed, the journey through them makes our writing stronger. Good luck!

Wendy, this one is going on my door for the month of June. Do you know about my studio door? It's painted sage green, and each month I write a poem on it in gold ink...which can be wiped off with turpentine when the poem is changed. Although I draw from all poets, past and present, though Jane Yolen tends to be there most often!

Thank you for the kind, kind words everyone.

Oh my goodness that's gorgeous, from the "corset of wind". . . onwards.


Hi Phyllis

Thank you so, so much for this lovely and gracious reply to my poem!! I am deeply touched by your kind words and enthusiastic encouragement toward the book I am working on, my first book of poems!!! Your comments truly brighten my day!!

Again thank you!
My Best

Hi Terri

Yes, I am familiar with the poem on the door of your studio and have always that it was such a beautiful and inspirational idea. So lovely! And I can't tell you how humbled and honored I am to have this poem being showcased there!! Thank you, so very much for this; and I am deeply grateful and glad you enjoyed this poem and found meaning within!! Your beautiful photos of the woods/flowers/moss-covered stones and woodland paths of Chagford brought me home again to my woodland refuge in New York. It enabled me write to this poem and for a few hours, feel as that I had been transported back there!

Again, many thanks
Take care,
My Best

Hi Jane

Thank you so much for these wonderful words about my poem. I am very grateful and glad you enjoyed it!! I appreciate your thoughtfulness!

Take care,
My Best

Hi Stuart

Thank you so much for reading and commenting on this poem!! I really like the way you summarize its strength or what underscores its strength --

"the brevity that gives the delicacy of the subject matter real muscle. "

Yes, I can definitely perceive that and am glad it makes the poem work.

Again, thank you!

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