Sunday, October 15, 2006

Get Your Nose Dirty

Our sweet dog, Buddha, with an unusual prize, an ear of feed corn from an adjoining field.

There's a lot of arguing about whether or not people should write every day. Some people feel guilty if they don't. I used to, but I don't anymore. If I write before I'm ready to, I just write junk, and it has no redeeming value at all. I'm not saying that I don't sometimes have to fight fear and procrastination and make myself sit down and write. But I am saying that if my spirit is dry as dust, I know I won't have the energy it takes to write anything good. So I wait. I read, I think, I pay attention.

That's what I mean about Buddha's corn. He paid attention, and he found himself something unusual, something out of his ordinary experience of sticks and limbs and rubber toys. He carried the corn around for a while until it felt like it was really his. He was pretty proud of it, too. He slobbered it up real good. Then when he was ready, he buried it in our field. He dug a hole and then used his nose to push the dirt over the corn. He looked back at us, Allen and I, and this dog's nose was very dirty. He pranced and snorted. He was very content.

So that's what I do, find myself a prize, some unusual happening or observation, a great metaphor that shivers me timbers, and after I've carried it around a while, played with it, pranced with it, ran through the field with it, I bury it for later. I bury it in my memory or plant it in one of my many notebooks or blogs. Then, when I'm good and ready, after other stuff has happened and I maybe have myself a little epiphany, after I understand how special my prize is, I dig it up and use it.

Sure, this is messy. You get your nose pretty diry. It's not systematic. It's not a sure thing. You won't write a ton of books like Joyce Carol Oates does (who, bless her, says she does write every day). But you can go about your days contentedly, searching, like Buddha, for more prizes. Pretty soon, it accumulates. It starts to grow, maybe, green shoots at first, and then a big tall plant. Sooner or later, you'll make that little find into something great. Patience!


Cynthia said...

I love your perspective here, and honestly I wished I shared it. The searching for that unexpected treasure takes more confidence than I have that the writing ability will still respond when that treasure is found. Also, if I don't write everyday,I lose the ability to see the special things when I happen across them. Writing feeds my ability to observe which then in turn feeds my writing. I also know that for me, if I don't make writing an undeniable priority in my daily life that I'll lose it to other demands on my time. Now, a day away from the pen every now and then is good, but too many can lead to me not writing at all. However, my top priority in writing right now is finishing work I've begun and having the patience and discipline to let longer pieces develop and conclude, instead of starting something fresh.

GreenishLady said...

I really liked this post - the quirkiness of the photo and the rule for the writing life you extracted from it. I write something almost every day, though it might only be the mindless, boring blah of morning pages, and yet, on a day when I think I have nothing to say, if I am set an exercise, and start to write anyway, it often astounds me that something entirely unexpected and very welcome will emerge.

Vicky said...

Thanks for all you reveal here, my friend. I appreciate all you have to say, and it is really hitting home with me. I shall take it to heart. And I do love the picture of little Buddha - he looks so PLEASED with himself!

ggw07 said...

I do both. Sometimes I research for months and years until a theme or topic is completely ready. Then I use a deadline and write every day until done. I have found that the milling around time is essential ground work. The initial impulse for the idea must be valued and respected. Then comes the real work, setting it down, thrashing and rethrashing to get it right. If I'm writing every day this seems easier.

Erin said...


What a great picture! And I, too, love the message of this post. I find especially that reading on my "off" days is helpful.

You asked how Phoebe is doing--she's been getting much better about her "separation anxiety". She still doesn't love it when we leave, but she is learning not to chew on things, and she's getting more used to our schedule. I love to pet her in the evening (she likes to roll over in the middle fo the floor and just lies there until someone comes to rub her belly), and also to play fetch with her (she's really good that that game!).

Happy Monday!


Anonymous said...

Hmmm, do you think Buddha's feed corn will sprout? Glad to hear that you don't subscribe to the write every day or else method, which always seems to go against my grain. Ah, yes, I can come up with all kinds of corny references, if I want. Love the picture. Thanks for the reassurance that there is more than one way to get where we're going. Me, I gotta get there in a way that makes some money soon, or else. Teagrapple

Gannet Girl said...

I love this idea of finding a prize and carrying it around for awhile. I especially love it as a dog-related metaphor ~ since what dogs deem prize-worthy is so often somewhat unclear to the rest of us. And perhaps to them, as well.

sandy sanchez said...

I also loved (and share) your perspective here. And I loved how you expressed it. Clearly writing clearly, meaningfully and beautifully, whenever you choose to do so, is something that comes very naturally to you. Which brings me to this: the difference between inspired and intended writing. Do you feel sometimes that you are not so much writing as channeling another voice? I would have been hesitant to admit that is what I often feel like I'm doing, but I've heard other authors say the same. And there is Julian Jayne's theory about poetic creativity. I highly recommend, if you have not already, that you read The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind (once past the title, the rest is really easy and sometimes astonishing reading) by Julian Jaynes, published back in 1976. Well, clearly reading blogs is not a daily activity for me either but I am so glad I had some time to do this today and found that lovely photograph of that clever dog. You should have quite a harvest next spring!



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"I was no better than dust, yet you cannot replace me. . . Take the soft dust in your hand--does it stir: does it sing? Has it lips and a heart? Does it open its eyes to the sun? Does it run, does it dream, does it burn with a secret, or tremble In terror of death? Or ache with tremendous decisions?. . ." --Conrad Aiken


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