When will the words come?
Updated: Aug 29
How many times have found yourself sitting at your desk, pen poised, staring at a blank piece of paper? It doesn't matter if your pen is digital, if your desk is in your home, or at your office, or a picnic table in the park; or if your task is to write prose or a status report--the struggle is the same: how to start.
I mentioned Dr. Chris Burnham in my previous post, my advanced composition professor at New Mexico State University, and thought I'd share another nugget of wisdom from his teachings: start by describing what you see, or feel at that moment. Are you cold? Write about how that feels: are your fingers stiff and numb, or do you feel the wind whipping through your tent threatening to dislodge your stakes and send you and your camping gear into a raging river? Is your stomach growling? Is someone talking loudly, is the baby crying, or a dog barking? Write all of that down. Writing doesn't have to have a goal to be important, or even profound, and often these little nuggets of information make their way into your stories.
One of my favorite stories was of Walt Whitman, and the small leather notebooks he carried in the large pockets of his coat. The New York Times has captured some pages of these journals in a wonderful article that I'll link below. Notes from these journals made their way into much of his poetry, culminating in his greatest work: Leaves of Grass.
"Sometime during the late fall or winter of 1860-61, Walt Whitman began an imaginary conversation with Abraham Lincoln that would continue for decades to come, inspiring several of the most famous poems in American literature. The poet began his dialogue with the president-elect “as in a dream.” Most of the notebook pages reproduced here have never before been published." — ADAM GOODHEART, The New York Times
Like Whitman, I carry nuggets of life experiences like treasures in tattered notebooks to be discovered again, and again, through my characters and their stories. But to help you get started, I've added a little slideshow below. As you flip through the images, put yourself in the picture. What's going on? Are you frightened? Happy? Who is with you? The point here is that the exercise of writing is much like pushing a rock down a hill; the tricky bit is to get it started.
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(Click on each image to advance to the next.)