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Find Your Onion

13 October 2017 on Blog   Tags: ,

Sometimes I will sit down with a great story in mind, a prefect conglomerate and arrangement of words to express an idea that’s been nagging at me. Sometimes I have the proper lines and their proper order, and I sit with them to make a poem. In those moments, I am emboldened as a writer. When the finished draft more-or-less matches my vision for it from the beginning my lines are my potent art. In those moments, I forget that I can count those moments on my toes, with my shoes on. That’s to say that I write when I am inspired to write, though I am not always inspired to write. In fact, I am seldom inspired. So, what about the loud moments, the uninspired moments, those weeks or months at a time when there’s just nothing to say?

There are craft books, there are always craft books, that compare one artistic bent to another. Writing is like running, writing is like painting, writing is like loving, and so on. They tell me to journal every day and take myself on a date to the paper store and get a new sheaf of off-white. They tell me to attend poetry readings and local band performances. They tell me to sleep with a pen to capture the subconscious at 3 a.m., which invariably reads, if I can read it at all, like a junked out angsty teenager had an epiphany regarding pseudo quantum mechanics. I, ever skeptical, question the methods. What do we gain from journaling every day for twenty minutes? Is it really a benefit to me as a writer to go on “artist dates” and buy pens and paper once a week? Do the pen and pad next to my bed ever really capture my subconscious genius? Do any of the craft books really tell us how to get the words on the page?

Journaling for twenty minutes a day can help construct a habit that gets us to the work table. Art supply stores, book shops, and poetry readings do the work of focusing the mind on the task. And sleeping with your pen will occasionally yield a crafty sentence or two. It’s all great practice, but do they get to the basic inevitable truth? The best thing for actually writing is to actually write.

For all the piles of writing advice, the best I ever received was given to me as advice on how to make a good soup from scratch, without a recipe. The reader should know that, on occasion, their favorite restaurant will have a surplus of ingredients. To use the food, and not throw anything in the trash, the chef will usually make a spur-of-the-moment decision to make a soup. The chef I worked for used to pass that job on to me, his sous chef. The first time he gave me the job, I balked. I wasn’t inspired to make anything particularly creative, and I didn’t have a recipe to make anything particularly good. I said I didn’t know what to make. He smirked at me and tossed me a single yellow onion. Start with this, he said. He understood something basic, that creativity doesn’t come from inside. We begin a project and attract the creative truth of the work, and that starting the work is the only way to invite the creative truth to the table. Sometimes the trouble is, of course, where to start. My best advice is to find your onion.

Dan Haislet is Barnstorm's Poetry Editor.

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