Eliza Waters, author, gardener, and naturalist, invited me to participate in a blog tour of writers reflecting on their own writing process. You will find Eliza’s blog wonderfully illustrated with photos of her Massachusetts garden and peppered with her wit and wisdom. Eliza has become a treasured friend and correspondent over the last several months, and I hope you will take a moment to read her reflections on writing and life.
I would suggest that writers are obsessed, not trained. For some of us, an idea or turn of phrase lodges itself into our mind and repeats itself, like a squeaky hinge, until we begin to write it.
Once we write down those initial words, more begin to flow in a trickling stream of consciousness. One image elicits the next, and ideas fit together into some sort of structure.
I’m often surprised at how these thoughts develop and transform; linking to something I’ve recently read or seen or heard; and a message takes shape which was unseen at the beginning.
On a good day….
This need to write started when I was very young. I was often writing in the margins of a composition book while an oblivious teacher conducted class on some very different topic. They must have assumed I was taking copious notes. But I was writing verse, and the whole process of composition and editing carried over in spare moments through the course of a day or two until I knew it was completed.
The pile of finished work accumulated and by junior high a sympathetic teacher made a friend and me editors of a school literary magazine. Writing, and writing friends, carried me through grade school and into college. I continued to edit various publications over the years. Finally I had the opportunity to work with young writers during my own teaching career.
A summer spent with the Tidewater Writing Project at ODU offered the opportunity to share my writing with other teachers; and to hear, and comment on, theirs. Writers actively working on their own material make more sympathetic and helpful teachers. We learned how to write with our students and how to work with them as mentors and partners in the process.
And writing is a process. Its roots lie in reflection. Its roots lie in soaking in ideas expressed by others in their music, poetry, fiction, prose, art, and photography. From this rich brew of ideas and close observation of one’s own life, ideas bubble up which need expression.
It is good to encourage ideas to flow freely in the beginning.
I still keep a legal pad and colored pens on my desk, between me and the computer screen, to capture ideas as they first form. Phrases are pieces of a jigsaw puzzle which must be tried and turned and finally fitted together into a smooth whole.
But once those ideas have been caught into words and captured on paper, one must get down to the business of developing the ideas into something another might want to read.
This is where the art and craft of writing takes over from visionary rambling.
Frequent visitors to Forest Garden find many different sorts of writing here.
There are essays and poems, how-to posts and quotations. And there are many photographs of life in our garden and community.
While I sometimes go looking for photos to illustrate an idea, more frequently an idea is sparked by the day’s cache of photos.
I began writing this blog to help other gardeners struggling in similiar deer-ridden vole-infested, squirrel- bitten shady bits of forest.
I had lists to post and resources to share. That information remains in the archives.
But the discipline of daily writing brought me back to my own roots as a poet. And some days now poetry seeps out, other days hard prose. On a very good day there might be a hint of poetry buried within some useful prose.
Whether one is writing poetry or prose, good composition is based on research, structure, and refinement.
Questions arise as I’m writing. There is always more to learn about whatever topic, whether the name of a particular plant or the various opinions on how best to prepare a planting bed.
Most of my composition occurs at the computer with a search engine window open. I look for what others have to say, fact check, spell check, and look up words. I search for quotations on particular topics, examine photographs, check maps, and always research the cultural requirements for plants I might mention. Since much of the writing I publish now is fact based, I try to confirm information from multiple sources as I write.
“Revising” nearly always begins before the first draft is complete. I walk away from the work and come back to it later with ‘fresh eyes,” re-reading from the beginning. I want to know that I’m on track to express my thoughts logically and clearly. I look for “jumps” where more information or a reasonable transition is needed. I look for tangential wanderings which need deleting.
Deleting is almost as important as writing. I usually put down too many words, whether it is prose or poetry. One searches for a simpler, clearer way to put an idea into words through revision.
This process of revision takes time. The words need to get “cold” sometimes before we can hear our own awkward passages to fix them. And this is just for the sense and structure of what is written.
The whole process of “editing” is another matter entirely.
I shiver to think how many students’ papers I’ve read and “edited” over the years. That critical part of my brain which looks for commas and common misspellings is definitely overactive; and yet I often miss my own errors.
Sometimes I find them on a sixth or seventh reading. Sometimes my partner reads behind me, and finds things I’ve missed.
Yet it remains important to me to make a piece of writing as clean as possible before sharing it. I want my writing “clean” of any distraction which might snag a reader’s attention away from my message, whether that is a factual error, an awkward phrase, or a “typo.”
The point of writing is communication: mind to mind, heart to heart, and soul to soul. It is a way to connect with others across unlimited space and time.
In reading a sutra, I hear the wisdom of a Bodhisattva who lived centuries ago as though we were sitting together over a cup of tea.
I love the community on WordPress because it allows me to converse in real time with acquaintances in Massachusettes, Malaysia, Australia, Georgia, Brussels and Great Britain, all while sitting here at my desk.
And through these conversations I’ve met talented, fascinating people. I’ve found companions along the way who share my passions and concerns. And I’ve discovered artists and poets, activists and environmentalists, mystics and mothers.
Everyone I’ve encountered is reflecting on their own journey through the words and images they publish.
One friend and fellow traveler, artist, mystic, and writer is Sue Vincent. Sue, like Tolkien, Lewis, and Rowling; writes about a special world which transcends time. Her journeys through the countryside of England, as recorded in her novels, are an epic quest for lost wisdom and deeper understanding.
Her delightful characters share their experiences and reflections in the sort of archetypes which takes the reader along on a journey of self- discovery.
Sue shares her own journeys on her blog, and gives us a glimpse of her writer’s world of research, deadlines, and the satisfaction of publication. She also shares the joys and sorrows of children, friends, and a small dog.
Her exquisite photographs become a meditation beyond words. I hope you will visit Sue’s The Daily Echo, which is the next stop on this blog tour.
Words and Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014