Yesterday, I attended an incredible all day fiction writing workshop at Gotham Writers. Susan Breen, our instructor, generously shared her wealth of wisdom and emphasized that to become a successful writer one has to... pay attention. As a born introvert who excelled at parallel play, I feel this is a strength of mine. One of my favorite stories from my childhood was when my mom asked me what I wanted to be for Halloween when I was four years old. I told her I wasn't sure. My mom suggested that I be an angel at which point I tersely responded, "I can't be an angel." She asked me why not, and I lamented, "All angels have blond hair and blue eyes." In case my mom hadn't noticed I went on to inform her that, "I have brown hair and brown eyes." My mom set out to prove me wrong the next day, but she was unable to do so. I had formed an accurate conclusion based on the prevailing evidence in all the stores we visited. As a result, my mother, an activist and artist, told me I could be an angel if I wanted to be one. She sewed a spectacular costume for me and I was an angel on a mission that Halloween night in 1985. After piping the customary trick-or-treat greeting, I surprised each person who answered the door by proudly declaring, "Anyone can be an angel."
Children are incredibly keen, curious and observant, which is why they are such marvelous writers. The mundane for us is novel for them. Their playfulness and vibrant imagination fuels their creativity. As a teacher, I strive to correct their grammar and spelling without puncturing their exuberance. Yesterday, some people in my workshop were stymied when asked to begin the different writing exercises simply because they could not get out of their own way. They were quick to doubt their decisions and critique their selection of words and construction of sentences. The act of writing had become laborious and plagued by doubt. I am no stranger to doubt and perfectionism, but these writing exercises elicited in me a sense of spontaneity and open-ended play. The minute we were given a prompt, my imagination took control of my pen and I relaxed into her. I trusted the creative process and allowed the sentences to flow without interruption. I felt awash with adrenaline. Nothing had been mapped out nor did I have a destination or goal in mind. I was free to wander.
Last night, as I reflected on my day, I thought of J.R.R. Tolkien's quote, "Not all who wander are lost." Just as wandering is important to a child's development, wandering is equally important to our continued growth as adults. The word wander relates to the Old English word wandrian, which is related to the word wind. I love that the words wander and wind are related. There is certainly a poem to be written about that connection (stay tuned!). In order to wander one has to be flexible and willing to deviate from plans and goals when the impulse strikes. When we permit ourselves to wander, we give ourselves the gift of observing what we might otherwise have ignored. Wandering welcomes the winds of possibilities. So, yes, wandering and paying attention are important for those who want to become writers, but I think it's vital for anyone who wants to, as Thoreau said, "live deep and suck out all the marrow of life."