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Have you ever lost your way as a writer?
Has your passion for the unwritten page fizzled into a dull yearning that remains unrequited because you just can’t seem to find your inspiration? Have you labored on, chipping doggedly away word-by-word, even though you know the piece is going nowhere?
We’ve all been there, probably more than once.
I used to think that I got lost because my muse abandoned me. That was never the case. She is always there at the ready. I am the one who forsakes the path – my path. I let my curiosity and insecurity lure me off into the wilds of Other People’s Opinions. As I wander deeper and deeper into the tangled bracken of writing advice, looking for some unnamed treasure, I am ensnared in thorns and tripped up by roots until I finally collapse, confused and disheartened and unable to write.
This happened to me recently, but a book rescued me.
My Name Is Mina is the prequel to David Almond’s Printz Honor novel, Skellig (Printz Honor). The full title of the book is My name is Mina and I love the night. Anything seems possible at night when the rest of the world has gone to sleep. Just reading that, I knew I’d found something special.
But, this is not a book review. This is the story of how one small and unassuming book opened a path through the brambles and underbrush so I could find a way back to my writer’s path – back to my point of inspiration, to the thing that drew me to writing in the first place – the pulling apart and looking inside, the wonder and awe, the flights of fancy and words and ideas. My Name is Mina reminded me how stunningly beautiful simplicity is and how utterly fantastic the truth can be. It reminded me that sometimes the biggest events in our lives take place in the smallest moments and that those moments are as worthy of ink on the page as the monumental events that lie blatant and bold across our days.
This book – which is a slow and quiet story that hardly seems to be a story at all – gave me a chance to drink deeply of the quiet, to withdraw for a moment from the chaos. It gently pulled me back and in, but somehow opened me up to the mysteries of the Universe
Mina invites the reader to do “extraordinary activities” – many of them involving language and writing, poetry and stories, but others just meant to create moments of solitude and reflection. I was reminded of the many days I spent up in the boughs of a sugar maple that was in the front yard of my childhood home. I felt like I’d been given permission to slow down and ask myself the Big Questions – if I could remember what they are – not “What’s for dinner?” or “Who will win the election?” but “Why are we here?” and “How do we find joy?” and “Can we fly through the night while we’re sleeping?” Mina taught me things. Did you know that a flock of goldfinches is called a “charm?”
I have read so much lately about story and structure – inciting incidents, first plot points, character arcs, etc. – that I had lost sight of what originally drew me to writing. I forgot that the books I loved as a child, the books that inspired my love of stories and of writing, were not always so much about living vicariously through some adventure or other, but about answering questions in my own head and heart. Even the adventure books I loved invited the reader to stop once in a while and just think bigger, wilder, more improbable thoughts.
Eleanor Roosevelt said, “Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.” Mina is a girl of ideas – the intermingling and interdependence of dreams and reality, hope and experience, answers and questions. She is not afraid to ask questions. She is not afraid to give answers. But, she’s also not afraid to be without answers. She is open to everything and anything – the endless possibilities of life, the Universe and everything. She blends stories into real life – giving new meanings and depth to small, everyday moments. She sees the world in all its glory. Nothing is mundane. Each leaf and twig, stone and egg is filled with possibility and the magic of life. She is brave – challenging assumptions, speaking out of turn, and swallowing her fear in small bites. She is connected to everything and everyone around her because she not only sees everything, but she bounces her observations off the rich interior landscape of her mind to create new connections and stories and realities.
Unafraid to ask questions, give answers, or be without answers. Open to everything and anything. Imaginative. Observant. Brave. Connected. Mina is a writer.
She reminded me why I wanted to be a writer. The way she tells her story – in loosely connected vignettes presented as journal entries – is how I began writing when I was a child. I didn’t write cohesive stories. I kept journals. Starting at the age of seven, I wrote what I saw and heard and experienced. I wrote how it made me feel. I wrote what I wondered and supposed and dreamed. Oh, the dreams! The night is such a fertile plain. As Mina said, “Anything seems possible at night when the rest of the world has gone to sleep.”
Even now, decades away from those blissful hours of writing without inhibition in battered notebooks decorated with unicorn stickers, I am still journaling and looking out into the night to wonder and suppose and dream. Though she will soon outgrow it, my daughter still frequently calls me into her room in the pitch of the wee hours to sit on the edge of her bed until she falls back into her own nighttime reveries. No longer the child, I still find my mind wandering out into the dark and down the street or up into the trees, making up stories, asking questions, exploring. It is often during these moments awake under the small, sharp light of the stars that I am stuck by an idea that needs to be pinned upon the page.
Do you remember what first drew you to writing? Have those waters been muddied with all the technical talk of craft, technique, marketing, and publishing? Clear them. There will be time enough for technical things later. First, create from your heart. Bring that which is only yours into the world and let it take flight in the hearts of others. That is what you do with words. That is what makes it all worthwhile. That is what Mina would do, and what you can do, too. No one is stopping you. You just need to get your feet back on the path – your path. You need to find a book to rescue you – to re-open your writer’s heart. Which book will it be?
Jamie Lee Wallace is a writer who also happens to be a marketer. She helps her Suddenly Marketing clients discover their voice, connect with their audience, and find their marketing groove. She is also a mom, a prolific blogger, and a student of the equestrian arts, voice, and trapeze (not at the same time). Introduce yourself on facebook or twitter. She doesn’t bite … usually.
Image Credit: Alice Popkorn