“He began watching and questioning his own experience, and writing down what he observed.
At first, this mainly meant following his personal enthusiasms, especially stories from his reading: tales from Ovid, histories from Caesar and Tacitus, biographical snippets from Plutarch, and advice on how to live from Seneca and Socrates. Then he wrote down stories he heard from friends, incidents from the day-to-day life of the estate, cases that had lodged in his mind from his years in law and politics, and oddities he had seen on his (so far limited) travels. These were his modest beginnings.”
-How to Live: A life of Montaigne in one question and twenty attempts at an answer by Sarah Bakewell
If my creative life had a mantra this week it would be “contrast”. On Saturday our family hosted a party for ten children. Those of you who have party-aged kids will know it was pretty high-energy. On Wednesday our daughter was part of a neighborhood parade of hand-made lanterns called St. Martin’s Day, a traditional children’s holiday in German. The week before we’d gone to her kindergarten to help her make a hot-pink dragon with purple glitter.
Here’s the contrast bit: my writing life is quiet. Though I don’t know yet what it is, I feel on the cusp of a new project. Its details are still a mystery to me, but I sense I need a new way of working.
It’s too easy in creative life to be preoccupied with movement of thought. I read about a book a week. I keep a podcast on while I’m cooking or cleaning. And of course I write. Writing isn’t just about the time it takes to put words to paper. It’s the movement of thought before-hand.
But something is missing in that mix. That something I think is life itself. Without unfiltered experience there’s no material to write with. So my creative goal this week is a non-doing. I will commit to chunks of time when I look as clearly as possible at my environment and experience. I think of it as a writer’s meditation. As beautiful as getting to know your life when sitting is, as a writer I’m interested in getting to know the texture of my life as it’s lived. That’s the grist for my creative mill. I hope that, paradoxically, quieting my writer’s mind I will unearth the deepest layer of material for a writer: not the movement of thought but the movement of life.