writing inspiration

2 posts

Why “Are You a Writer?” Is a Bad Question


Some people consider themselves a writer but, when asked, never admit as much. They are the shy and modest ones, I hear you saying. They are the realistic ones, I hear the other saying.

Some people consider themselves a writer and, when asked, explain at great length. They are the outgoing and confident ones, I hear you saying. They are the vainglorious bores who talk better than they write, I hear the other saying.

Some people are found out by their writings. The people who don’t write will say to them, “You should write about…” or, “Let me tell you my story so you can write about it…” as if you are a boy scout obliged by your abilities to do good in the abstract name of God and scout’s honor.

But it doesn’t work that way, even if it tries. Your body can be warmed by another man’s fire, but your inspiration cannot. It remains cold. It will not give of itself.

I thought these thoughts when I read Lucille Clifton’s brief poem below. If you are a writer, quietly or loudly, incognito or out, perhaps you will identify.


why some people be mad at me sometimes
Lucille Clifton

they ask me to remember
but they want me to remember
their memories
and i keep on remembering

The Danger in “Getting It Over With”


Once, when taking my daily  walk, I strode quickly with the goal of getting it over with. I noticed at night, going to bed, I had the same anxious goal: let’s get this over with, because sleep is boring and, when I wake up, treacherous thanks to the threat of wee-hour insomnia. What’s more, I love waking to new days.

Thus, the checklist mentality of crossing a task off the list: walking, sleeping, working in any way unpleasant.

After reading The Pocket Thich Nhat Hanh, however, I’ve reconsidered and repositioned my point of view on “getting it over with.” I began to see that a series of “getting it over withs” will not only ruin the journey but expedite the journey’s end. The ultimate “getting it over with” awaits us all and will be happy to oblige when the day comes, after all.

And so, while walking, I forced myself to enjoy, until I no longer needed to rely on the use of force. I looked up at pine trees, the way they outline sky, which in turn led me to appreciate clouds and their many incarnations of beauty, how they shift color, position and texture, how they bounce slightly with my stride.

In full Thich Nhat Hanh corny mode, I even smiled at them, thanked them for sharing themselves with me. Uh, silently, of course. You never know when people in a rush (those still “getting things over with”) might be eavesdropping.

This morning, for instance, I took in the poetry of nuthatches scratching treebark in their circumambulations. Chickadees in their eponymous speech from the branches above. The lonely horn of the Ashland train heading to Boston. Like a symphony going rallentando. All together and at once, for me, as a reward for slowing down.

I took in the smell of cut grass on the lawns of suburbia, the wet smell of earth from the edges of a small pond, the long cool storyline of Canadian air coming down from the distant north.

Isn’t this how writers are more likely to find poetry? A rushed mind is of little use to the muses standing by, checking their fingernails, waiting patiently. But a relaxed one—a mind liberated from its monkey—is another story. A story directed by all five senses and nine muses, a story fed in equal portions by wonder, imagination, and possibility.

Buddhism aside, slowing down offers great benefits to the writer. A man can come back from meditative walks where’s he’s completely open to the elements and get to work. Why? Because he’s actually living, wise to the dangers to past and future, embracing instead both here and now.