My writing day starts with a walk.
Down the wooden steps from my front door, up the sidewalk for several blocks, taking the shady side of the street because these days in my city are hot and sticky.
I walk fast, with my notebook and pen clutched in my hand or with a whole bag ready: book, water bottle, chapstick, notebook, phone to distract me or disrupt me, and of course my sunglasses.
Up enough blocks that my pace is starting to slow, and there it is: Blackstone Boulevard Park, a 3.29 mile long skinny oasis of grass and trees that stretches across the East Side of Providence. Most people come here to run, jostling sweaty and determined down the paved path in the middle of the park, sometimes with an eager, leashed dog galloping alongside. Middle-aged women come with a friend to speed walk, hoodies tied around their waists if it is evening, shorts and sneakers if it is day. I come here to write.
A bench in a park is a favorite place of mine for writing, along with coffee shops and libraries and taquerias with cerveza a-plenty. I have a desk at home, but it’s often contaminated with schoolwork, letters to write, bills to pay, things I ought to attend to. If I do stay home, I go out on the balcony and put my feet up on the railing and watch the squirrels on their weirdly thrilling daredevil missions across the wires. Wherever I am, I spend a good deal of my writing time watching instead of writing. This probably concerns the people with whom I am sharing these coffee shops, because I will often stare into space for quite a while before a thought comes to me and I am ready to move the pen again. I have been told that I also mouth words while doing this, and though I am pretty sure this only happens while revising poems, I’m sure some unsuspecting bro has looked up from his latte to think I am hexing him under my breath.
I know it is the practice of many writers to seek seclusion; to sit at the desk and look at the wall until they can get the writing done. Perhaps I’m fortunate in that writing is not my “job” (at least not right now), and therefore I am free of deadlines and have no existential acupuncture needles to paralyze me. I try to write a little every day, but other than that, I require nothing of myself except enjoyment and free-flowing creativity. I am more successful at the every day habit in some months more than others. But I’m happy to report that I’m on a 6-week streak right now, and that’s a lovely stabilizing feeling. Writing, for me, isn’t getting the job done, it’s exploring.
So it helps to be someplace worth exploring. That’s how ideas happen for poems and essays. Maybe this is too simple a formulation, and many may cry foul once informed that my novel-in-progress takes place on the prairie in the American West. No, I don’t just take things from the world and put them in my writing, but once I got accustomed to noticing things in a writerly way – that is, noticing things as isolated unready-to-hand items in their own right, not just implements to move through a normal life – I see that interesting prompts are everywhere. I am feeling generous, so I will give you two examples:
1. Today I am writing under a speaker playing cool boppy tunes in Providence Bagel. I’m sitting next to a young family with 4 kids. I look up when I hear the oldest boy say “I see the thing that we don’t have to take anymore,” to see that he is pointing at the city bus.
2. I am a very responsible driver; however, I would like to inform you that the most poetic road sign in the world is in middle Massachusetts near a little forest preserve with trails. It says:
If I don’t somehow get this into a poem this summer, you can have it.
I suppose I don’t know what my poetry would look like if it didn’t look like the world around me. Often I have to just sit and notice for a while. This results in a lot of lists in my notebook. That’s okay – they can join the random 3 am jotting of dream thoughts, which often don’t make sense in the morning (what was so poetic that I had to scrawl BRAN MUFFIN across the pad on my nightstand?). They can join the collection of wonderful lines that people say when they’re giving voice to their unformed thoughts or when they don’t know you’re listening. I keep track of things I should have said, love notes that don’t apply to anyone I’ve met yet, types of flowers, star signs and grief signs and recipes for disaster.
So for me, it’s essential to go out in the world and live. Go ahead, buy yourself a cup of coffee or better yet a brownie. Take the long walk down Blackstone Boulevard to a new bench, one whose epigraph reads “To Ron: You are my Destination.” Linger at the pub over another beer and see if anyone asks what you’re writing.
Nora Pace writes poetry, essays, and fiction. Her flash fiction and poetry has been published or is forthcoming in Barren Magazine, borrowed solace, and Riggwelter Press. She recently attended the Kettle Pond Writers’ Conference. She lives in Providence, Rhode Island.