Kipling’s “recipe for writing” suggests that when we’re in a funk, when our writing is somehow blocked, we need to quit trying to force it. Instead, he advises we let go of the process for a bit. Let the mind wander. Exercise a quiet, steady patience. And then act when the muse (the Daemon) returns.
This letting go can take many forms. It is, I suspect, unique to each individual writer. And it isn’t necessarily as pleasant a process as we might envision.
For many, like me, the practice of drifting, waiting and obeying is often ugly. Oh sure, I have — rarely — experienced that blissful experience of sitting at my desk for much of the day gazing out the window, marveling at the way the morning’s sparkling hoarfrost clings to strands of barbed wire. Watching the low arc of the sun traverse the pale winter sky, stretching the forest’s blue-black shadows across the freshly drifted snow. My mind drifting through the silence. Waiting patiently for inspiration. And then it comes. A poem is born. (Or at least a draft.)
More often, the process unfolds — unravels, actually — like this: I sit down at the desk to begin a new poem. I scribble down a line or two on the blank page and then pause. Nothing more comes. I stare out the window for a while. Nothing. So, I go outside to split wood, then return after an hour or so to jot down another line or two. More staring out the window. More nothing. Then it’s back outside to wield the axe. Or perhaps walk to town to check my PO box. Upon returning to my desk I review what little I’ve written and promptly tear up the page. Before I know it, the day is gone with nothing to show. My wife comes home from her work and asks how my day went. I say it was a total waste. And I rant and rave about the fact that I’m kidding myself. My writing sucks. I’m a fraud. Blah. Blah. Blah. She calmly looks at me (maybe rolls her eyes) and says, “Yes dear.” And then I storm back outside — angrier now because she wouldn’t buy into my riff — to split more wood, all the while feeling sorry for myself. Hating the world. Telling myself nothing matters.
And then the next day, I wake up and, without understanding the why and how of it, write a decent line. And then another. Eventually a poem. And the world seems right again.
“Drift, wait, obey.”
Worth considering when the writing just won’t come.
Worth considering, too, before that next tweet is sent winging into an already fraught world.