How do you find an image?

tree reflection on wet parking lotRecently, Bethany Reid posted this quote:

“I have written a great many stories and I still don’t know how to go about it except to write it and take my chances…”-John Steinbeck

I was grateful for the reminder that I’m not the only one.

This past year I’ve felt, every time I approach the page, that I don’t know what I’m doing, that I have forgotten how to write a poem. The page doesn’t have to be blank–even if I am starting with a free write from a few days ago, I don’t know what to do. It’s unnerving.

I tell myself this could be a good thing, that I’m looking for new directions for my poems, for the way I write. Wouldn’t that be great?

Then I move a word here, change a word there, break a few lines, break a few stanzas, shift things around, delete, rewrite, and sometimes, miraculously, I am able to create–something, at least, but is it something new?

Last week, my sister-in-law tagged me for a Facebook 5-day black-and-white photo challenge (I later learned that my sister put her up to it).

Panic! I am not a visual person. I am not a photographer. I often feel that taking pictures puts a scrim between me and the experience similar to the way thinking “can I turn this into a poem” puts a layer between the moment and me. Plus, my photos tend to turn out blurry and crooked.

But last week, finding the picture became the experience. Searching for it each day got me out of my head, because as I walked along the creek I watched for high contrast, or even for shapes that might tell a story. As I looked for a new way to show the landscape around me, the landscape became images–the same and yet separated from the total experience. Finally, Friday gave me the photo I wanted. Not pretty, but instead a different way to see something.

Now, how do I slow down and attend to that focus, that investigation in my writing?