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.
"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.
"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."
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?
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.