Tunes for a Monday Morning
Casting Spells

How we begin

Woods edge 1

The theme I'm exploring this week is "writers and readers," beginning with a passage from I Could Tell You Stories by essayist & memorist Patricia Hampl:

"It still comes as a shock to realize that I don't write about what I know, but in order to find out what I know. Is it possible to convey the enormous degree of blankness, confusion, hunch, and uncertainty lurking in the act of writing? When I am the reader, not the writer, I too fall into the lovely illusion that the words before me, which read so inevitably, must also have been written exactly as they appear, rhythm and cadence, language and syntax, the powerful waves of the sentences laying themselves on the smooth beach of the page one after another faultlessly.

Woods edge 2

"But here I sit before a yellow legal pad, and the long lines of the preceding paragraph is a jumble of crossed-out lines, false starts, confused order. A mess. The mess of my mind trying to find out what it wants to say. This is a writer's frantic, grabby mind, not the poised mind of a reader waiting to be edified or entertained.

"I think of the reader as a cat, endlessly fastidious, capable by turns of mordant indifferance and riveted attention, luxurious, recumbent, ever poised. Whereas the writer is absolutely a dog, panting and moping, too eager for an affectionate scratch behind the ears, lunging frantically after any old stick thrown in the distance.

Woods edge 3

"The blankness of a new page never fails to intrigue and terrify me. Sometimes, in fact, I think my habit of writing on long yellow sheets comes from an atavistic fear of the writer's stereotypic 'blank white page.' At least when I begin writing, my page has a wash of color on it, even if the absence of words must finally be faced on a yellow sheet as much as on a blank white one. We all have our ways of whistling in the dark."

Writing notebook

Indeed we do.

Mine, when possible, is beginning each new piece I write in a notebook outdoors. Away from my desk, computers, phones, from stacks of mail and schedules and lists, I am better able to find the words I need to carry me over the fear of "the blank white page" -- and once I bring these scribbles back to my desk, their momentum carries me forward.

Fellow writers (and other creators), what about you? How do you begin?

Woodland coffee

Woodland flowers

Woods edge 6

I Could Tell You Stories by Patricia Hampfl

Words: The passage quoted above is from the essay "Memory and Imagination," published in I Could Tell You Stories: Sojourns in the Land of Memory by Patricia Hampf (W.W. Norton & Co., 1999). The piece in the picture captions is from Selected Poems by Welsh poet Gillian Clarke (Carcanet Press, 1985). All rights reserved by the authors. Pictures: An old stone wall between woods and hill, now overgrown with trees, grass, and moss. Devon folklore tells us that fairies love such liminal spaces, "betwixt and between." The hound and I love them too.


I, for one, have never feared the 'blank white page' whether drawing or writing. Instead it fills me with enormous excitement about the journey to come. The initial sketch, the rough draft is a broad path with many, many diversions, each of which can and have lead me across that field of dreams and onto an increasingly narrow trail that winds through the dark of the wood ahead of me. There, every lurking monster or impossible to cross chasm simply provides more fodder for the tale I'm trying to tell. I trust myself and that path to bring me to a safe home on the other side of the wood.

"It still comes as a shock to realize that I don't write about what I know, but in order to find out what I know."

Yes! That's it!

Also love the bit about cats and dogs. I'd like to think of myself as an elegant fastidious cat, but when it comes to my writing, if I'm honest, I'm as pantingly eager for praise as any good doggo.

The quotes and the pictures - so perfect!!!

How do I start writing? Crate of Guinness, packet of king size cigarettes and a bacon sandwich fried in approximately two litres of lard.

As for the analogy of cats and I've said before, I'm the one that's rolled in fox poo.

My method of writing is definitely that of a terrier: I bite down on the story, hard, my jaws lock and I hold on until the bitter end, no matter what. I honestly think my best quality as a writer is my refusal to give up, even when the going gets really tough.
I also begin with a notebook. I love writing in notebooks because it tricks my brain into thinking that I’m not really writing a book, just some scribbles for myself. Writing A Novel mostly feels way too daunting. Once the story is already underway I move on to the computer.

I have a hard time just writing and not editing as I go, too. My 0th draft is done on brightly colored lined paper, as a sort of reward, I suppose, for finishing the previous page. I have no problem starting on a blank canvas, since I know I’m going to cover everything up with layers. One of the joys of mixed media.

I have an odd combination of excitement and fear: I love blank white pages and unmarked notebooks, full of potential...and yet often fear the commitment of making the first mark. It's a hurdle I jump over every time; and while it's gotten easier with age and experience, it's never gone away entirely. At this point, I just accept that this tense and awkward jump is part of my creative process. As long as I don't baulk at the jump, I'm fine.

I want to add that I certainly would trust any path you were on too!

I know few writers who aren't, even if they don't publically admit it. :)

Thank you! It's starting to look like spring in our little woodland, at long last.

You always make me laugh, Stuart. Considering the number of fine books you've published, those lard-fried sandwiches must be working.

I love your terrier image! And having worked with many, many writers over the years (while wearing my editor's hat), I can now think of several others -- naming no names! -- who are definitely terriers too.

I have a really hard time with that too, Lynn. The "editor me" keeps wanting to take over too soon in the writing process, and the "writer me" keeps having to swat her hand away.

I discussed this with my editor once, and she said she's more like her own dog, a spaniel, easily distracted by squirrels and sunshine and food...

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