The Artist’s Way
As a writer whose life is immersed in words, I have an inevitable and contrary fascination with the passion of artists who paint and draw their images instead of writing them, people like J.M.W. Turner or Georgia O’Keeffe or Thomas Hart Benton or Monet. For them there was a need to create their works non-stop, as if they were trying to keep up with the flow of what they saw and felt before they were trapped into stasis by the avalanche of ideas that came to them unceasingly. They had nothing like the angst that writers so often describe, no blocks, no hesitation or self-doubt. With or without applause, their lives were too filled with the passion to get the image on paper or canvas to worry very often or very much about whether someone approved. Yes, they felt competitive, yes, they made choices that were sometimes flawed, and many succumbed to a life that seldom held a cautionary approach, be it with their lovers or their families or the way they chose to live. What they did do was live in their passion.
Musicians are much the same. I recall Philip Glass answering an interviewer when asked if there was ever a time he didn’t think about music. He said it was always with him, that often he felt he was holding down a cauldron of sound, letting a little of it out at a time, but worlds of it waited to be released. No, he said, there was never a moment when he didn’t hear the music.
Seeding the Stories
It is the same for writers. We are never without the image and sound of the words that grab us. A phrase on a piece of scrap paper is as much evidence of this as a formal page typed in its final revision. I find notes everywhere…in old boxes of forgotten stories, in the pocket of a coat, in a drawer of receipts, in a handbag, or pushed between the pages of a book. I find the outline of a story on the back of bill envelopes from years ago. These all serve as the apprentice notes for stories not yet written or that appear later as if out of the blue, having already been seeded, and they are as ubiquitous as breathing.
I think writer’s block is not a sign that inspiration is not there but rather a sign that so much of it is, we can become afraid of opening it up, like Glass’ cauldron. When we do, we sense the passion that won’t let go. We take a step that can’t be retracted, and we can’t assume an instant longer that we don’t care. We do. The words are there.