By Edith Cook
It is a universal truth that an ageless writer must constantly search for ideas that help us keep going, or give us the motivation to start again. How do we form ideas for stories and poems? How do we start writing again after a hiatus of years or decades?
You might start by visiting a local bookstore, library, senior center, or community theater, and asking for a calendar of events. Attend author readings or book club discussions. You need not buy the book; chances are, it’s available at the library. If a writers’ group meets, all the better. Sit in on a session, then ask if you may join.
Senior centers have exercise programs. You can skip the morning workouts that include coffee and donuts, but there are other possibilities. In my town, some writers’ groups meet at a library, some at a Barnes & Noble. I am starting one in a senior center beginning in January.
Perhaps, if you suggest it, your senior center will create one. Offer to give a reading of your favorite author’s work to get things going. This means summarizing certain information, which is a useful skill to develop. If you can ferret out something that’s not generally known about your author or your particular reading excerpt, all the better.
For example, “The Bear” is one of Galway Kinnell’s best-known poems (it’s readily accessible on the internet), but few people know it is based on a Native American legend. Robert Frost’s “Home Burial” retells a painful personal experience in poem form. Rainer Maria Rilke’s Tenth Duino Elegy descends into what he calls “the mother experience,” his memories of a difficult childhood.
Perhaps a family story rattles around in your memory, part legend, part grandparent recollection. Unbeknownst to me, many years ago one of my father’s stepsisters hanged herself in an insane asylum. As a consequence, she left behind three young children. In some kind of horror show reaction, the family severed all contact with those unfortunate young kids. To write this up as a story or poem and share with a friend or a writing group, I’d have to resort to fiction or creative nonfiction storytelling.
We need to remind ourselves, in any writing endeavor, not to pressure ourselves to publish it right now. Every writer has dozens of stories, poems, and essays that never make their way to the printed page. Sometimes, after we reread a piece that sat for weeks or months, we recognize its weak spots and amend them.
Involving yourself with things unfamiliar is another strategy. You may enjoy listening to opera, but only when you attempt to reproduce this or that aria will you recognize the depth of emotion behind the glamour.
The same is true of different writing genres. If you have never composed a poem, reading someone else’s out loud will bring something new to your understanding of how to share an emotion.
Edith Cook is a well known writer, editor, musician and educator who lives in rural Platte County, Wyoming 50 miles north of Cheyenne. She also contributes her valuable time as a judge in the Ageless Authors Writing Contests and offers her wisdom and experience about writing and publishing to various online and print publications. From time to time, she will give her perspectives on “ageless writing” in this space.