Writing or Creating in the Middle of Things

writing-centerI had the privilege of taking a workshop from noted American poet William Stafford not long before he died. Stafford wrote a poem a day for most of his adult life. He would rise at four in the morning, make his tea and toast, then sit on the sofa in the living room and write a poem. By the time his wife and children were up he felt as if he had done his day’s work.

He would then go off to his job of teaching writing to at Lewis and Clark College in Portland, Oregon. He would give his students the assignment to write a poem a day. When they began to whine and moan that that was too difficult, he would respond “lower your standards”. By lowering his standards he was awarded the National Book Award; appointed U.S. Poet Laureate and Poet Laureate of Oregon; received a Guggenheim Fellowship; and was a beloved teacher and workshop leader.

Stafford kept a daily journal for 50 years, and composed nearly 22,000 poems, of which roughly 3,000 were published. Of his work he once said in an interview: “I keep following this sort of hidden river of my life, you know, whatever the topic or impulse which comes, I follow it along trustingly. And I don’t have any sense of its coming to a kind of crescendo, or of its petering out either. It is just going steadily along.”

In order to show up for our creativity or the work of our life I think it helps to lower our standards on what we can accomplish on a daily basis while still keeping our focus on what we ultimately desire or want to achieve. Develop the practice of showing up everyday and taking some action, however small, toward your goal. If you are a writer be happy that you have drafted a poem or a page. You can start by showing up for 15 minutes rather than thinking you have to find two hours of free time before you begin.

If you are moving toward a new career or expanding your work be happy that you have made one phone call to connect with someone you might be able to help you. By taking one small step a day you can cover a lot of ground and it has the added advantage of allowing you to sneak in under the radar of the part of you that is resistant to change.

Carve moments out of your day for doing what brings you heart and meaning or gives you a sense of momentum. I carry copies of the poems or essays I am working on revising with me wherever I go and pull them out while I’m waiting to have my car’s oil changed or early for an appointment. By learning to do our creative work in the middle of things we infuse our daily life with the meaning and satisfaction that comes from nourishing our soul.

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