One of the most important things I’ve come to believe about my own writing is rooted in an idea that the poet William Wordsworth expressed well over a century ago. He was talking about the relationship between passion, reflection, and writing. I wish I could remember the exact way he said it, but I can’t. I didn’t memorize it. Something in me as I read it just recognized that for me as a writer it was significant in some way. Later I realized how very significant his ideas were for me on both a personal and writing level.
Wordsworth believed that he wrote best about strong emotion that he had experienced from a distance, after a certain passage of time, after he was removed enough from that particular occurrence and the emotions it prompted, to have been able to reflect upon it. He believed that in many instances the best writing was both retrospective and reflective. That turbulence was best understood and written about later, during a time of peace, as he expressed it, “in tranquility.”
Do we write through our emotions? Write as things are happening, as we are experiencing them? Of course. As writers I think that it’s part of our identity to do so. We write during times of joy or grief, passion or regret, hope or despair, ordinary or extraordinary events in our lives. What we write during such times may stand whole and entire in and of itself. That is very, very rare for most of us. Maturing as writers requires us to recognize the good, the bad, and the ugly in our own work. To realize what we find in our work that is worth keeping, reflecting on, and revising. Again, that gives meaning to Wordsworth’s philosophy.
For me, those experiences and emotions that I catch in words as they occur are just catalysts for what I will write later, often much later in my life. As writers, we each have our own personal process. But I know that for me my best work happens after I reflect, after I sort through my thoughts and feelings as I have seen them play out in my life. For whatever reason, it’s important to me to understand how experience and emotion have impacted me. Life is complex. Many of our emotional responses actually are responses to the experiences of others in our lives who are important to us, whom we love or have loved.
Things happen, we happen. We move from one emotion to another throughout any given period of time. We respond to all kinds of personal experiences in all kinds of personal ways. We don’t always think about it…what we are doing, what we are feeling. But, often, we write about it. And that writing is often the beginning of a piece.
Sometimes we find that our way to personal meaning in our individual lives may open us up to writing in another genre. For me, that is creative nonfiction, a genre I love. It includes memoir, but is not limited to that. What I feel centered in as a writer is both poetry and creative nonfiction. I like the thought that in our own online community of writers we are each discovering our own way, our own identity as writers. We also learn and share with one another as we make the journey.