Posted by: jeannineatkins | November 1, 2013

First Words

I remember way back to being a child and given an occasional assignment to write a story or poem. I stared at my desk or the kitchen table feeling as empty as the paper by my hands. Thankfully, many instructors now use prompts that nudge without restricting much. One word or question may bash through the fear of the empty page with the tension of a challenge or the delight of possibility. Those first words with their sense of loneliness and reminders of past failures can be the hardest, but now we’ve made it through.

Right now I’m in the end stage of writing a picture book about animals that uses rhyme, a sound challenge that sets its own directions every few lines. I play with matches for words that may snap the line into humor, spin around the direction of the story, snag a new connection, or confound me enough to go back and find another word. Rhyme marks the edges of lines and sets boundaries that budge or bounce. They take me from what I know to what I don’t know. Rhymes don’t just limit but move, reminding me that I’m not alone, but interacting with the page that’s my world for the present.

Some of us who’ve been working a long time on long projects fit in writing in parking lots, on bleachers, or in between jobs and chores. We may forget that it was the world we now duck away from that first inspired us.  When those other demands step back we can notice too much empty space, even if we still long for more of the lightness we call time. This is when it’s good to practice free writing, moving our pens quickly and without judgment. The empty page is filled again and we remember our commitment, even if it’s initially just going to mean lots of crossing out of what we put down. We’re grateful for any words on the page.

Writing is always some kind of conversation with the world, or a sort of dance that engages not only our own minds but what’s around us. Once we make a mark, we can follow it to another. Most words have a life of their own, with memories that are personal or shared which we might tease out during the next round of the dance we call revision. To swap similes, language stretches like a sweater that feels more comfortable every time we swing or spread our arms. Try it on again. Maybe it’s a little scruffier, loose at the elbows, but the color is still a favorite. Possible metaphors are all around us. What can we learn from what’s different and the same? Can we notice something new within the old, the ways the tangible informs the abstract, and write a brand new line?

For more Poetry Friday posts please visit Linda at TeacherDance.

 

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Responses

  1. Jeannine – I love to read your posts on your writing process. They are elegant and eloquent!

  2. I love this.

  3. Thank you!

  4. I like to savor, and listen, to your words, and then they’re telling me to do the same with both my world and my words. “Can we notice something new within the old, the ways the tangible informs the abstract, and write a brand new line?” Thanks always, Jeannine!

    • Linda, it’s an honor to send a bit of inspiration your way. Thank you, as always, for reading!

  5. There’s so much to love about this post, but I’ll pick this as my favorite bit:

    “Rhyme marks the edges of lines and sets boundaries that budge or bounce. They take me from what I know to what I don’t know. Rhymes don’t just limit but move, reminding me that I’m not alone, but interacting with the page that’s my world for the present.”

    • Thank you, Mary Lee. I don’t often spend this much time with rhyme, and am really enjoying myself!

  6. So, this touched me deeply – for I have projects that I have backed away from, now that the school year is in full swing, but I have those parking lot moments, when they call out to me – remind me that they are waiting. I especially loved this line:
    Writing is always some kind of conversation with the world, or a sort of dance that engages not only our own minds but what’s around us.
    Thank you, Jeannine.

    • It’s wonderful you get those calls in the parking lot busy as you are inspiring those lucky sixth graders. I’m glad you listen to all those inner and outer voices.

  7. “Writing is always some kind of conversation with the world, or a sort of dance that engages not only our own minds but what’s around us.”
    Oh yes, beautiful Jeannine! That’s what I love about this community of writers–we lay bare what’s inside and share it over and over again. I feel so honored to be a part of the conversation.
    And speaking of writers sharing, do you ever get over to LJ anymore? I’ve started posting again and was wondering whether to stay there or start a new WP blog. I see that LJ is very quiet these days, but it seems so much easier to be a community. I have to say, my food system WP site has felt a bit lonely on the community end of things. Would love your input about your experience with your WP blog.

    • Dear Lorraine — I do get to LJ sometimes, but as you suggest, so many have left the good old neighborhood, leaving great memories. Yes, it was easier to be a community there, but spam and other weirdnesses took its toll, and people left. WordPress isn’t the same, but we connect the best we can. Facebook isn’t the same either, but I find it good as a way to link and enter into other blogs. Let me know if you want to talk/email more about possible choices. I miss and always want to hear your dear voice.

      • Yes, I certainly can understand the reason for leaving LJ especially to establish a more professional website. And yours is beautiful! But it’s funny, I’ve never had any of those troubles at LJ, maybe because I don’t post that often?! But you’re right about using FB to link to whatever site we blog on. I had to take a leap to do that with this last post on LJ. It sort of felt like exposing myself to the world!

        I’m definitely thinking about a new WP site, especially if I go the self publishing route for my stories. I can always post on both sites too. Thanks for your support. xoxo


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