Where to Begin

Terry Tempest Williams posted this on her Facebook page. I was immediately struck that this is not just good advice to “young writers” but to all writers. And not where to begin, but where to begin and sustain.

To Young Writers: Where To Begin*

1. Keep a journal
2. Find out what you love and pursue it.
3. Develop a focus or lens from which to see the world.
4. Get a day job.
5. Learn to write on the side.
6. Work hard.
7. Be generous.
8. Build community.
9. Say yes to everything until you’ve earned the right to say no.
10. Protect your solitude.
11. Learn to live with paradox.
12. Embrace uncertainty.
13. Stay independent.
14. Fame has nothing to do with writing
15. Staying awake has everything to do with writing.
16. Do not avert your gaze.
17. To work is a blessing.
18. Money buys time and time is all a writer has to create.
19. Revise.
20. Walk.
21. Drink water.
22. Watch birds.
23. Fresh flowers help.
24. Light a candle.
25. Listen.
26. Cultivate patience.
27. Trust the words will come.
28. Be kind to yourself
29. Follow your instincts.
30. Take risks.
31. Don’t worry what other people think.
32. Care a lot how you treat other people.
33. Honor your sources.
34. Maintain your integrity.
35. Tell the truth.

Humility and gratitude are good companions.

Do not believe the people who say you are crazy.

Believe in yourself when no one else does.


*From a talk given at the Champlain College Young Writers Conference on May 23, 2014.
Copyright Terry Tempest Williams

Breathing Like a Poet

moonriseI always want to do something really really big for National Poetry Month. Write a poem each day! Write a poetry review each day! Carry around a poem each day and recite it to people! Create a daily radio spot!

Last year I posted a writing prompt each day of the month. That was fun, but I didn’t actually write to as many of them as I wanted to. This year, I thought, a short poem each day… but honestly, I’ve been writing a lot lately trying to finish up drafts for my new manuscript. I don’t want to interrupt the flow I’ve already established. Since I don’t (if I can help it) leave the house every day of the week, carrying a poem (and foisting it on all manner of people I interact with) is not necessarily the most effective exercise either.

Then yesterday at the beginning of the month, as I launched into my normal morning routine, I decided to tweak it a little. Usually, as I drink my morning coffee and eat a piece of toast, I read three poems from whatever collection I’m currently deep into. Three poems calibrates my mind, tells my conscious (and maybe even my subconscious) that now is the time for poetry and writing. Just about the time that toast is finished, three poems have been read, and now I’m ready to either write a draft or spin around for awhile in my journal. Yesterday, I read those three poems out loud.

Today, three more poems out loud. Three rather long ones from Seamus Heaney’s collection The Human Chain. There’s something so incredibly visceral about reading poems out loud. Reading a poem out loud is like being possessed by the spirit of the poet. You respire as the lines dictate; your cadence, perhaps even your heartbeat is linked to the lines on the page and those lines on the page were fashioned by the poet to match an experience in his or her head/heart.

After three of Heaney’s poems this morning, I felt flushed and solidly in the meat of my body, as if I had walked up a steep hill and was now gazing out over green pastures. I was firm on the earth.

Can you do me a favor? Tomorrow, or this evening, try reading some of your favorite poetry out loud. It feels almost like yoga to me – I am in the moment, my mind is united with my breath which is united with my heart. See if it isn’t the same for you.

I’m excited about this method of celebration National Poetry Month. And anyone can do it. Pick up a book, open your mouth, fill up your lungs, and let those round ripe words roll forth.