Two-time Governor General Award winner, author of 7 books and our delightful guest author at our 2015 fall retreat, Caroline Pignat shares an epiphany on her creative process. As anyone who was at that retreat can tell you, Caroline was pure inspiration and what she has to say as our guest blogger continues to inspire:
A few years ago, I started collecting acorns on my morning walks. It became a thing to find that perfect seed: that cute little nut capped in its tiny beret. As a kid, I always loved acorns: the look of them, the weight of them, the wonder of holding the promise of an oak in my palm.
Acorns, to me, were like ideas, so full of possibility. I fancied myself some kind of modern mystic (read: hoarding squirrel) as I collected them in the jar on my desk. They were the perfect metaphor for my creative potential. Still, like most ideas found and treasured as I walked, these little seeds were soon forgotten in the busyness of my days.
Until the maggots
“Umm…why do you have a jar of maggots on your desk?” my young niece asked, in a mix of wonder and disgust. Sure enough, she was right. My poetic potential had become infiltrated with a mass of wriggling, white worms.
On my desk!
The horror! I wish I could have given her some inspired response. It’s a science experiment? Novel research? Pets? A snack? Any one of those answers would have been better, I suppose, than admitting that all this time, I did not see what was wriggling before my eyes.
With great dismay and even greater heebie-jeebies, I tossed the lot into the woods behind our house. So much for my profound metaphor.
But now that I think of it, my little acorns taught me another truth. Ideas, like seeds, are not meant to be hoarded. Sure, there is something comforting in filling files and notebooks with ‘what ifs’, plots, and projects. I sure feel productive squirrelling ideas between the covers of my journal.
But then… what?
I have to actually do something with that seed. That creation, invention, process, product, insight, voice — that inspiration — whatever it is, I have to let it go.
Why is that so difficult?
Maybe it’s because I like feeling the weight of its potential in my pocket. I could plant it here. I could plant it there. This could be the next big thing. That sense of could-ness makes me feel all powerful. In seed form, that idea doesn’t have to face the axe of rejection or ridicule. In seed form, perfection is still possible and so I like to hold on to it just a little longer.
But as I learned, nothing good comes from hoarding ideas — and that’s the cold, wriggling truth.
Sowing that idea takes courage. The courage of letting go. The courage to be patient and to trust in hidden growth, when all I see is dirt. Anxiety and doubt threaten to choke all hope, especially during those times when it feels like all I am growing is impatient.
Planting more seeds
And here’s another thing my acorn taught me: I’m an idiot if I think by will or worry I can make it grow any faster or become what it isn’t. I’m finally coming to realize that there is a natural process, cycles and seasons to my creative self. Just as there is a natural process for every seed of an idea.
Of course, I wish each one will sprout into a mighty oak, but the truth is many will never quite get their moment in the sun. Some will languish in the shadow of someone else’s great idea. And more than I’d like to admit, are just duds destined to rot away.
But, you know what? I’m finally okay with that. I’m starting to realize that even the duds serve a purpose. Often they make the fertile ground for a new premise to flourish.
So to you, maggots, who wriggled your way into my writer’s block and opened my horrified eyes — thank you, I think. Thanks for helping me learn to seek, sow, and let it go knowing there are always more acorns waiting on the path ahead.
About our guest blogger:
Caroline Pignat is a teacher, a two-time Governor General’s Award winner, and a best-selling author of seven novels, including Egghead and Shooter. Known for her lyrical style and varied forms, Pignat explores the cycles and seasons of life through acrostic poems in her latest release and first picture book, Poetree.
She has written teachers guides for many books including her own novels, Egghead, Greener Grass, and The Gospel Truth. In her upcoming Poetree Activity Guide, Pignat offers resources for nature journalling and poetry with students. Links to these free downloads at www.carolinepignat.com
Writescape was delighted to host Caroline as our guest author at Turning Leaves 2015. She brought her excellent workshop skills and generous spirit to the writers on retreat with us. This year’s retreat is November 2- 4; there are still a few spots left to join guest author Andrew Pyper and Writescape for another inspiring writers’ weekend.
Photo: Angela Flemming