Patti Callahan Henry
“….And the river, even when frozen, arrives at the right place….” Thomas R. Smith
I didn’t write those gorgeous lines. They are from a poem titled TRUST by Robert R. Smith.
But if the subject this month is Writing Struggles, this is what I have to say about struggles in my writing – Even when it is frozen, it arrives at the right place.
Yes, it’s easy to trust in the metaphor when everything is working and the story unfolds and the plot offers me themes and wonderful words, but sometimes of course that doesn’t happen. Sometimes we stand on the riverbank of our story and can’t see anything while we’re stumbling and grappling for vision. The reason I love this river vision for the writing life is because I love rivers.
I don’t know why I love rivers – I didn’t grow up on one or raft down one (unless you count college and the Chattahoochee, which is another story). I wasn’t saved and baptized in the muddy waters. But rivers carve through my soul the same way they carve the land through which they move. For hours I on a riverbank and watch the water moving by, going somewhere, to some final destination which is predetermined or…maybe not.
I swim in its waters without being able to see what is below the surface. Tidal rivers are my favorite – the way the water swamps the land and then exposes the mud, oysters and life below the surface. I watch it flow over rocks and barriers; I see it nourish the land and the life within. Rain falls into its waters and lightening flickers against the surface.
The river is a living thing, trying to tell me something, but I’m not wise enough or connected enough to understand its language. But every once in a while, in a quiet moment, I’ll hear that river.
So I realize – this is the same way I feel about my writing struggles. I show up on the writing riverbanks every day and hope to hear the words and story. Where is it going? What does it have to say? Are there turbulent or calm words to this part of the story? Is there a storm or a sunset? Is the water pink with twilight or grey and disturbed?
This is the way it is with my story: It might take me hours or weeks or months or years to find out what it is saying – but I still want to show up. I might not know the waters final destination, but I’ll keep going. I might not yet understand what the low tide will reveal, but I’ll wait. There might be rocks and storms and diversions, but my words will ‘arrive at the right place’.
It’s hard – the waiting and the struggle – but what is the other option? To not show up at the riverbank. And that, for me, is not an option.
And here is a picture of my favorite river. Now who woulnd't want to stand at that riverbank?
Patti Callahan Henry is the NYT bestselling author of six novels: LOSING THE MOON, WHERE THE RIVER RUNS, WHEN LIGHT BREAKS, BETWEEN THE TIDES, THE ART OF KEEPING SECRETS and DRIFTWOOD SUMMER.
Her Holiday Novella THE PERFECT LOVE SONG: A HOLIDAY STORY, will be out October 12th.