Louise Penny

The Sunday Salon: Washing Ashore

One can’t help noticing the irony of it, here in this season where cards and carols proclaim “Peace on Earth, Goodwill to Men,” that acts of violence and terror seem to abound both far and near. As fear, intolerance, and hatred breed a global culture of paranoia and hate, it’s sometimes difficult if not impossible to find the spirit of our Christian holiday.

This week I’ve been immersed in the latest installment of Louise Penny’s Three Pines series, books I love for many reasons,  but perhaps mostly for the way they transport me to this place in the Eastern Townships of Quebec, this village nestled deep in a valley, marked by three tall pine trees that signify it as safe haven, a sanctuary. 

Oh, do I need a Sanctuary. 

A Penny for Your Thoughts

One of my very worst writing habits is failure to think. An idea pops into my head and I sit down at the keyboard and start writing, letting the words take me where they will.

Sometimes I sit at the blank screen and start typing something, anything, again letting the words take me down one path after another until I stumble upon a makeshift destination.

While I believe there are times this kind of writing is valuable, I also believe I rely on it too much, that I write too casually without taking the time to think through my ideas or turn them carefully around in my mind as I would an interesting rock or seashell found on the beach.

I believe real writers must think as much as they write - maybe more. Louise Penny, one of my favorite mystery writers, keeps a lovely blog where she talks about the intersection of daily life and writing. The other day, she wrote these words:

Wrote more than 2,000 words today, but not happy. I think it's close, but slightly off. Perhaps just too much detail....need to streamline it. But I walked a few times around the pond and stopped at the bench to think, and came to the conclusion that it needs tightening, sharpening, and I need to really pin down what I want this section to say and do. The purpose.

“I walked a few times around the pond and stopped at the bench to think...” Good writing needs that mulling over time, both before and after the words appear on the page. Time to consider what’s about to be said or to reconsider what has been set down in black and white.

Brenda Ueland also touches on this idea, a concept she calls “moodling” and defines as “long, inefficient, happy idling, dawdling and puttering.” This is how we open the door for our imagination, allow ideas to wander in and make themselves comfortable.

The pace of modern life doesn’t always allow for the kind of deep thoughtfulness I’ve decided is so important to a writer. Blogging and Facebooking and Twittering encourage us to throw ideas out there willy-nilly, to say whatever pops into our head at a given moment. After all, there is always the opportunity to post something else tomorrow, or even in 15 minutes if you so choose. Our attention is fragmented by cell phones and texts and e-mails, like noisy toddlers clamoring to be noticed.

It’s hard to silence that noise and focus on a single strand of thoughts pertaining to your work in progress.

But I believe it’s imperative to do so.

And if you can, those thoughts will be worth much more than a penny.

How about you? Do you think as much as you write? How do you invite deep thoughtfulness into your writing life?