This may be frustrating to those who come to writing late in life – I am brand new to the fiddle, and sometimes, when my fingers just won't do what I want them to do, I bemoan the fact that I am SO OLD a starter. Alas. Please know that there is no wrong time to come to something like writing (or fiddle), and that being an early writer gives me no advantage and means nothing in terms of likelihood for a successful career or anything else. It's just my story. I cannot conceive of “me” that doesn't include pencil and paper.
My first written works were love poems --for my mother. I was 4.
By the time I was 8, I was writing poem for anyone and everyone I loved. Here's one I wrote for my father:
When I was a teenager, I became dependent on writing as a means of tunneling through the diamond mine of feelings, each so sparkly and new and brilliant, there were not enough notebooks to contain me.
Like so many writers, I did have a number of amazing teachers in my life who nurtured me along the way. I adored teachers who asked us to journal. I loved reading the little encouraging notes those teachers would leave for me in the margins. Here is a classroom journal entry from 1986, when I was 15 (on the facing page, my teacher wrote “Are you trying to earn Brownie points?”:
These days I do the vast majority of my composing straight to keyboard. But I still use notebooks when I am revising, or when I am stuck somewhere without a computer, or for making lists. There's nothing special about these notebooks – most of them are hand-me-downs from my kids:
One of the most frequent ways I use a notebook is for catching ideas – lines I want to use or explore, ideas for poem or story titles, basic randomness that speaks to me. On this page, you'll see I found inspiration from several Poetry Friday friends, Robyn Hood Black and Mary Lee Hahn:
When I checked my rubber-banded manila file folder marked “Water Hole Poems” for any notebook pages, I found this note, from when I was driving my son 45 minutes away to Tuscaloosa so he could attend an Early College class – and I had to wait for him. (I know I should date these things, but most often I don't, so I have to rely on context clues, as in the notepaper found here.) It contains some brainstorming on the opening poem for DEAR WANDERING WILDEBEEST... and, in fact, holds the title “To All the Beasts Who Enter Here.”
Sometimes I wish I wrote more in notebooks, because I do love the idea of it. But, as you can tell, my handwriting is not always legible. And I am so much faster on the keyboard! Also, for poetry, I love the instant gratification the keyboard grants for rearranging words and lines and trying different line and stanza breaks.
But, when I see my own handwriting, I feel such tenderness for myself and my inner world – it feels more vulnerable somehow, and it makes me want to do it more.
Also, you might be interested to know that I prefer PENCIL to pen... I need a clean page, so erasing is better for me than marking out... though it's less useful in terms of sharing my process in a blog post like this!
In my experience, art inspires art. Today, when you pop in your headphones to listen to favorite music, grab your notebook. Write down whatever lines speak to you. Then, go back and make those lines your own by changing a word here, adding a phrase there. Allow the words to flow through you, and you will discover your very own song!
Thank you, Amy, for inviting me to share my notebooks! I love peeking in on the many, many ways people live the creative life.
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Irene Latham was inspired to write DEAR WANDERING WILDEBEEST after viewing images taken by wildlife photographer Greg du Toit, who submerged himself in a Kenyan water hole in order to best capture the animals drinking. In response, she submerged herself in research and waited for the poems to arrive. She is also the author of three volumes of poetry for adults and two award-winning novels for children: LEAVING GEE'S BEND and DON'T FEED THE BOY. Two more collections of poetry for children - FRESH DELICIOUS: POEMS FROM THE FARMERS MARKET and SUMMER IN ANTARCTICA - are forthcoming in 2016. Visit her online at www.irenelatham.com
In honor of Irene's generous sharing here, I will give away a copy of her brand new, Kirkus-starred poetry collection, DEAR WANDERING WILDEBEEST, to one commenter on this post. Please leave your comment by Sunday, September 21 to have your name entered into the drawing.