So much in writing depends on the superficiality of one’s days. One may be preoccupied with shopping and income tax returns and chance conversations, but the stream of the unconscious continues to flow undisturbed, solving problems, planning ahead: one sits down sterile and dispirited at the desk, and suddenly the words come as though from the air: the situations that seemed blocked in a hopeless impasse move forward: the work has been done while one slept or shopped or talked with friends.
I have an idea that the only thing which makes it possible to regard this world we live in without disgust is the beauty which now and then men (sic) create out of the chaos. The pictures they paint, the music they compose, the books they write, and the lives they lead. Of all these the richest in beauty is the beautiful life. That is the perfect work of art.
― W. Somerset Maugham, The Painted Veil
A poem begins with a lump in the throat; a homesickness or a love sickness. It is a reaching-out toward expression; an effort to find fulfillment. A complete poem is one where an emotion has found its thought and the thought has found words.
When I am gripped with despair, when I think I might stop, I speak to my dead. Tell them a story. What am I doing with this life? They hold me accountable. I let them make me bolder or more modest or louder or more moving, but I ask them to listen, and then write.
Walker-thinkers have found various ways to accommodate the gifts that their walking brings. Caught paperless on his walks in the Czech enclaves of Iowa, maestro Dvořák scribbles the string quartets that visited his brain on his starched white shirt cuffs (so the legend goes). More proactively, Thomas Hobbes fashioned a walking stick for himself with an inkwell attached, and modern poet Mary Oliver leaves pencils in the trees along her usual pathways, in case a poem descends during her rambles.
Why, for example, do the great writers use anticipation instead of surprise? Because surprise is merely an instrument of the unusual, whereas anticipation of a consequence enlarges our understanding of what is happening.
Why would one ever be so insane as to ditch a perfectly beautiful metaphor? Cut back, of course, prune if you like, so that the best metaphors are clear and sparkling. But I will throw out unread the book that promises me no metaphors inside.
I needed my life as a springboard for my fiction. I have to have something solid under my feet when I write. I’m not a fantasist. I bounce up and down on the diving board, and I go into the water of fiction. But I’ve got to begin in life so I can pump life into it throughout.
I believe that half the trouble in the world comes from people asking ‘What have I achieved?’ rather than ‘What have I enjoyed?’ I’ve been writing about a subject I love as long as I can remember–horses and the people associated with them, anyplace, anywhere, anytime. I couldn’t be happier knowing that young people are reading my books. But even more important to me is that I’ve enjoyed so much the writing of them.