Posted by: jeannineatkins | November 2, 2008

Slamming Through Walls

I’ve been feeling it, and I’ve been reading it: lately some of us have been running into walls when we sit down to write. Recently I was glad to take a break and listen to two students do a presentation on C.S. Lewis and other fantasy writers, noting the paths characters take to other worlds. They showed a clip of the first Harry Potter movie with Harry at the train station, blinking and gulping in front of what he hoped was Platform Nine and Three-quarters and his entrée to Hogwart’s School.

“Don’t stop and don’t be scared…,” Ron’s mother advised. “Best do it at a bit of a run.”

My students spoke of the magic door handle that turned to various colors which Diana Wynne Jones used as vehicle to sweep characters to various lands in Howl’s Moving Castle. Ann noted that in the Chronicles of Narnia, you have to not only be young to enter new worlds, but to not know where you’re going. Lucy passes through the snug coat-packed wardrobe to the big open forest, feeling both accepting of and astonished at another world. We’ll always love the wardrobe, but at the end of the book, the professor cautions that the children shouldn’t expect to get to Narnia the same way twice. In Lewis’s The Magician’s Nephew, children jump into pools to arrive at different lands. In The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, they step through a painting.

They leap without looking. Can we? I’m not a child and I’ve been writing for a long time, so I’m well aware of words behind me and words I mean to write. Often I feel more obsessed with planning and cleaning up than shutting my eyes and throwing up my arms and jumping. It’s hard to take our eyes off the world past our desks, and the news makes us feel heavy, shallow breathed, not exactly in the mood for leaping.

So lately I’ve been trying to spend more time with blank pages, more time charging on without worrying too much where I’m going. I’ve landed in some strange, some good, and some plain awful places, but they all kind of beat staring at walls, which I do manage to get back to. The poet Auden, and maybe a hundred other people, wrote about writing as discovery, writing to learn what he was thinking. Under our hands, on paper, anything can happen.

We all have real walls we have to face. But when it’s time to write, can we let them disappear, fade into the color of empty paper? Be like the child who doesn’t know where she’s going?

Come on. Let’s run straight at that wall. Or leap.



  1. Thanks for the much-needed inspiration, Jeannine!

  2. I think this post is up at the perfect time for NaNo, which I’m–for some reason–really wishing I could do this year. Still, I’m goint to leap at the wall this week on my NF and try to get into the spirit of thing!
    The awful places, I think, can get cleaned up. And I suspect the wonderful places might not show up at all if we didn’t let ourselves leap.

  3. I’m all for charging the walls! Head down, and GO!!!

  4. Thanks, Jo. That done, can I slack off for the rest of the day?
    I had fun eating pizza and salad with your mom and sister at Keene yesterday, though mostly I wished you were there! But I get to see you on Thursday!

  5. Good luck with those leaps! I know you’ll land in some gorgeous spots!

  6. Yay, Tracy. Get away from the news for a bit, and yes, GO!!!

  7. A wonderful reminder. Thanks for that. Made me want to run and leap.

  8. Loved this–the kernel is to have the faith that Platform 9 and three-quarters exists when you take that unknown leap.

  9. It’s good to keep reminding each other. Good luck with your running and leaping, Tanya. (let’s hope Elizabeth is leading the way still… I’ve enjoyed seeing her around the libraries and bookstores!)

  10. I’m happy if I helped in any way to keep up your faith!

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