The great straggling dotted lines of cranes, ducks, terns, and geese lead me to think about movement. What migrations have you faced in your work? Have you pretty much occupied the same territories since you began? Or have you traveled to unexplored places?
William Stafford warns us that we want "a wilderness with a map."
Of course. We long for what's uncharted but don't want to get too lost. As writers, how can we deal with the great unknowns?
I'm especially interested in how we keep going when we're not sure what we're doing.
I wrote a whole book that way--Just Breathe Normally. After a severe wreck (bicycle vs. ATV), I couldn't read at first. Once I was breathing by myself, reading and writing were top priorities. I began to scribble very brief pieces, just trying to get back to the world of words. During most of the writing, I didn't know what these brief pieces were, what they could be. It was only after I'd written hundreds of them that the shape of the book's journey began to suggest itself. My flock of trusted readers pointed out to me things I could not see. Not so different from hundreds of geese milling, moving by instinct , genetics, experience, endurance, and skill to a place they might survive the winter.
Often when we begin a new poem or essay or story the discovery drafts exhilarate us. We don't know what this is yet. Everything is possible. Then as we make each writerly decision, we refine the world the writing will create and inhabit. Our focus sharpens. But even when we think we've found the ideal synthesis of research, memory, imagination, music, character, scene, and gesture, we can't be sure--do we have on the page what a willing reader will need to stay with us? We can only guess.
Will you share your experiences with movement into and through the unknown? I'll be interested to read them. Thanks!
Peggy Shumaker's new book of poems is Gnawed Bones. Her lyrical memoir is Just Breathe Normally. She's currently working on a manuscript of poems set in Costa Rica. Peggy lives in Fairbanks, Alaska, and travels widely. Professor emerita at University of Alaska Fairbanks, she teaches in the Rainier Writing Workshop and at many writing conferences and festivals. Please visit her website at www.peggyshumaker.com. Author photo credit: Barry McWayne.