Sparked by Words

Posts tagged ‘writing inspiration’

3-Day Quote Challenge #2

My dear friend, Sarah, brilliant innovator over at Art Expedition

tagged me to participate in the

3-Day Quote Challenge

Thank you, Sarah, for thinking me worthy of this honor and hoping I have inspiring quotes to share.

For my second entry in the Quote Challenge, I want to highlight two of my favorite lines from writers. This was much harder than it might seem because both the quotes I’ve chosen are meaningful to me, yet so are a thousand others. Narrowing down to two quotes I could expand upon within the context of my own trials at writing made me search, think, choose, and do it all over again for the whole week before making my final choices. It’s why I wanted to put off completing this task to once a week for three weeks in a row rather than the three days in a row the challenge requests.

To begin, I chose Julian Barnes’ line from The Sense of an Ending, which describes the job of an astute observer.

“What you end up remembering isn’t always the same as what you have witnessed.”

I encourage you to read Barnes’ book because it’s an opus on how consciously we might live, especially if we realized before setting out in arrogant confidence that we know everything when we don’t get it whatsoever. Barnes manages to write in only 163 pages how much we squander of our life when seeing nothing important.

As an individual line, Barnes’ charges me to choose with discretion the parts of each story I write. Elimination is as essential as inclusion, and knowing which small gesture will illuminate a moment to carry the reader through is key. It’s also something I often miss on first draft. Second draft. Third. If I don’t get it by the fourth draft, I begin to suspect I can’t write, and this haunts me. I know I’m a decent writer, but a brilliant one? Not likely. I fumble.

In one exquisite line, Julian Barnes captured the golden moment of his story. I was touched so deeply by this line that it’s stayed with me since I read the book. It continues to imbue me with the effort to identify what is imperative – then to tell that story.

Mary Oliver is one of my favorite poets. Her poetry kneels down and picks up clods of earth, not packed in a cup, but sifting through her fingers. She doesn’t write in curlicues meant to distract. Rather she searches for the visceral essence of life and pulls out the heart still beating. Then makes us look – smell – breathe – feel. We understand.

I’ve always believed poetry must be read aloud in order to internalize it. Oliver’s poetry crawls into my bones, waits quietly, whispers to me. She speaks in dulcet tones. From her poem, Evidence, this is what she says:

“Keep some room in your heart for the unimaginable.”

Story should pry open our eyes and twist moments till, like a mobius strip, we trace the inevitable connection. If we want to read only the recorded facts, that’s a history or science book, not a work of poetry. Or fiction. The unimaginable drifts in, exposes sinews of flesh and flecks of silver, and reveals the thorns of truth through the shimmer in the water. What Oliver shows us is the wonder of life, life everywhere, innocently finding its flock and its children and its season. Not to be best or first or most, just to be.

We are taught in school to make an assessment, take note of all the details, write down names and dates, and be accurate in descriptions. But nowhere do we measure the movement of things once there, now absent but not wholly gone. I get caught up in the illusion of accuracy, minding my dates and maps, but they aren’t the important parts of story. Anyone can write technical notes.

It’s catching the remnant of energy that matters.

Julian Barnes and Mary Oliver suggest the kind of writing I want to effect. To share the memory more dimensional than history, the parcel of earth more life affirming than its problems. I want readers to grasp what I hold when my hand is empty, what I see when my eyes are closed.

In those tiny pulses of what is no longer there is something worth telling in a story.



Image courtesy Pixabay





The Writer as Prophet


The great religions of the world are revealed through their prophets. The liberation of suffering in Buddhism through Siddhartha and legions of orange garbed monks. The revelation of God’s word in Judaism through Abraham, Moses, and a group of observant nomads. The salvation of the soul in Christianity through Jesus, the disciples, Paul, and later devotees. The submission to Allah in Islam through Muhammed and subsequent faithful clerics. The prophets existed in the realm of spirituality, select individuals following closely in allegiance to holy words. Those loyal people struggled to understand God’s commands, to bring truth to the quarreling common masses and peace to the world, begging us to be attentive. They showed the way forward.

Few of us are prophets, no matter how well we listen and observe the signs. Mostly we wallow down here in the trenches. Our feet stink, our armpits sweat, our eyes blur with exhaustion, and if we seek truth, it is mostly grasped in small flashes of illuminated moments between singing hymns and chopping onions for supper. We scream in frustration at our kids for whom we would lay down our lives and ignore our life partner because today is the same as yesterday. We don’t have the inclination to seriously reflect about where our souls are going, about whom we should love without question, what we should refute as corrupt thoughts. Some have decided there is no God at all, but they still must wash their dirty sheets, still gaze beyond the stars, wondering, what else is out there?

Writers fill the gaps. Pithy comments, mean observations, articulate descriptions, all meant to lead to what we have come to understand as essential rules for life down here on earth. Zora Neale Hurston wrote in Their Eyes Were Watching God, “Love is like the sea. It’s a moving thing, but still and all, it takes its shape from the shore it meets, and it’s different with every shore.” We sit up and pay attention to her words. Hurston’s got the goods on some kind of truth. Characters exist in an alternate fictional world that closely resembles the real one we inhabit. Ann  Patchett wrote in State of Wonder,  “Hope is like walking around with a fishhook in your mouth and somebody just keeps pulling it and pulling it.” Holy cow, we shout, that’s exactly like me, no wonder I’m so bloody!

Plots mimic the messiness of our everyday lives. Ian McEwan wrote in Atonement, “We go on our hands and knees and crawl our way towards the truth.” Yep, I know just how it feels to go through that. My knees are always bloody. My belly too. At the end of a story, writers cite the practical application of how to get along with each other, how to be compassionate, and how to love the people we hate. Khaled Hosseini wrote in The Kite Runner,  “It’s wrong what they say about the past, I’ve learned, about how you can bury it. Because the past claws its way out.” I’ve been running too long. We recognize ourselves in his story even if we’ve never been a child in Afghanistan. Time to turn and face the truth. 

The resolution tells the reader how it might come out if we follow the suggested format.  Nicole Strauss wrote in The History of Love, “So many words get lost…There was a time when it wasn’t uncommon to use a piece of string to guide words that otherwise might falter on the way to their destinations.” Is that a possible answer to my problems? Our heart calms. Just put my thoughts together until they make sense, and deliver them as needed? Writers may not have God’s divine directives leading us with a heavenly flame toward eternity, but they have some sense of practical life experience to shine enough light to make sense of our human disorder. Somerset Maugham wrote in The Painted Veil, “One cannot find peace in work or in pleasure, in the world or in a convent, but only in one’s soul.” Finally we know, it’s up to me to search my own soul, and Maugham showed me how.

My favorite stories are the ones where I see bits of myself, a mirror held to my inner being, even the ugly, desperate me, and espy another way to approach the way I live in the world, a better way, a more universal way of belonging. My favorite authors deliver again and again, new prophets guiding me, nudging me, warning me. Fix it, fix yourself, get it right for once. At the end of a really great book I feel enlightened, perhaps empowered. At least I want to get back into writing my own work and make it better. And that’s a good thing.

What makes you want to get back to work?


Image courtesy public images