By Anne B. Howard
Walt Whitman said, “The secret of it all is to write in the gush, the throb, the flood of the moment—without waiting for a fit time or place. I always worked that way. I took the first scrap of paper, the first doorstep, the first desk, and wrote—wrote, wrote…by writing at the instant, the very heartbeat of life is caught.”
As a writer of memoir and narrative nonfiction—engaged in an illicit affair with post-it notes—I couldn’t agree more. At my age, memories and important ideas come in fits and starts. I need a net… and places…to do my best remembering. How to describe the view from here? Which view? I use them all, but for different reasons.
For the serious work of Araphel Grace, my first full length book and thus far, a three year project, I get along best in the office where I can spread out on an oversized desk…a very messy desk, (I love messy desks, nothing OCD about me), littered with the objects of my affection: post-its, journals, photos, piles of reference materials, editing instructions, and a monstrous manuscript laid out in chapters screaming for revision. “Scalpel, please!”
Adding insult to injury is the fact that the current work is never the only story we have rattling around in our brains, clamoring for attention. And if I’ve learned anything in my years of writing, it’s that if I don’t take it as it comes, oftentimes, it won’t come back. Hence, my love affair with the indispensable post-it note, or the grease pen, or the back of my hand, the grocery receipt, napkin, just about any blank space big enough for two or three words, an important idea, something too good to lose.
To these random ideas—my unruly children—I offer one hour uninterrupted, first thing each morning…pen and paper close at hand as I sip the morning coffee, water flowers and admire all interesting creatures on the pond just outside our little townhouse door. What a miracle it is that two or three fleeting words scribbled across a napkin, if given the right amount of time and love, can evolve into something much bigger—like the context of a life lesson I’d almost forgotten.
Of course, there are other times when I’ve suffered enough—telephone ringing, doorbell chiming, dog barking, the neighbor stopping by to gossip, and a husband suddenly home looking for the lunch I haven’t prepared. This is when I pick up the IPAD with the nifty new keyboard and head for absolute solitude—my secret place—where nothing matters except getting the words out of my head and onto paper.
I’ll be honest with you. This seductive little disappearing act feels very, very naughty. Private and forbidden. Scandalous, treasonous, delightfully selfish. Just me and my post-its, “…writing in the gush, the throb, the flood of the moment….” Just me and my post-its, alone at last.