Well-known poet Stanley Kunitz lived to be 100 years old. I find that not only amazing, but admirable. This man was appointed Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress twice, first in 1974 and then again in 2000. We up-and-coming writers can glean much for the experiences of those who have gone before and parted the waters for us.
Kunitz left us with many amazing quotes that will fuel our writing fires. Below is one of my very favorite:
There is a constellation of images that are uniquely yours and there is a constant interplay between those key images that are at the center of your very being. If you never discover them the chances are that you may write interesting lovely but essentially superficial poems in relation to the deepest part of yourself which remains to be explored. The deeper you move the wilder the images are.
Top on the Insecurity List
While Kunitz here refers specifically to poets, I am confident this advice applies just as clearly to novelists. We too must discover our constellation of images.
In my years of working with hundreds (conservatively speaking) of aspiring authors and novelists, one of the top on the list of insecurities is whether or not that writer truly does have a unique voice.
- Do I, in fact, have something to say?
- Hasn’t it all be said before – by writers far more talented than I?
- How can anything I say matter in the larger scheme of things?
Time must pass, and many words must be written, before the writer makes the amazing discovery that the wrong questions are being asked. Rather than ask if my voice – or my message – is unique and viable, the question should be,
- “Is my constellation of images being allowed to shine?”
- “Is my constellation of images being explored to discover the expanses of my deepest passions?”
To wonder, or to express concern over, the presence of originality – or the lack thereof – is to ignore your very own fingerprints. Such thoughts tend to overlook the God-given unique nature and personality, and yes even life experiences, that each one enjoys.
Return to the Pain
It may be time to return to re-discover your own constellation of images. Back to the early passions, heartaches, and triumphs that color who you are. Often it is the intense pain that causes a person to shut down the passions and shut out light that could come from the pain.
One of my earliest memories is that of my parents screaming at one another – I was barely three – and my mother wielding a butcher knife. One would have to be emotionally blind and mute to think that event did not shape me. That event, while once a point of shame, is now one of my constellation of images.
Obstacles that Impede Novel Progress
In our course work in the Be A Novelist Six-Month, Finish-My-Novel Challenge much attention is given to childhood memories and experiences. Why? Because it is often from these points that obstacles arise which prevent the novelist from finishing his or her novel.
Let me quickly add that childhood events are not the sole source of our constellation of images. Where do your passions lie today? What grabs you and holds you? What captivates and demands your attention. (That is, when you stop your busyness long enough to allow passions to surface. Most adults become so preoccupied with life – so-called – that deepest dreams and visions sink into an abyss like a rock.)
Re-read the Quote
Go back now and re-read Kunitz’s quote. Then read it again. You may want to read it aloud so you can hear yourself making these strong statements.
The most frightening words in the quote are: If you never discover them… That, to me is worse, much worse, than actually going back to revisit the place of pain and learning to embrace it.
I would not want to reach my 100th year of life (love that thought), and admit that I did not care enough about my writing to discover my own constellation of images.
How about you?
Re-release of the third book in my Tulsa Series (Tulsa Trespass), originally published by Barbour Publishing in 1995, now available on Kindle and Nook. Tulsa Trespass is historical fiction set against the backdrop of the 1921 Tulsa Race Riot. Check it out HERE.