Sunday, October 18, 2009

Drawing Words From Your Inner Well

In Adeline Yen Mah’s Watching the Tree, she recounts her experience after graduating from London Hospital Medical School of treating Philip Larkin, the English poet, who was nearly forty at the time, “a balding man who worried about everything, with anxious, intelligent eyes behind thick glasses.”

Years later, while working on Watching the Tree in the public library on Brompton Road in London’s Earls Court, she found herself staring at a volume above her desk containing Larkin’s letters. Out of curiosity, she took down the volume and flipped through it.

What’s interesting about the excerpt below from one of the letters, aside from the inclusion of Dr. Yen Mah’s name, is Larkin’s explanation of his approach to writing poetry:
“She [Dr. Yen] keeps asking how one writes poetry, how one manages the beats and rhymes. I say that is the easiest part. The hardest part is having something to write about that succeeds in drawing words from your inner mind–that is very important, as one can always think of subjects, but they have to matter in that peculiar way that produces words and some kind of development of thought or theme, or else there’s no poem either in thought or words.”
Larkin’s observations applies, I think, to prose as well as poetry, fiction as well as non-fiction. What you write must matter to you... in such a way that it draws out words from your inner mind, your inner well.

If the words refuse to come, or if you’re finding it hard to write, perhaps the reason is because you haven’t looked hard enough or deeply enough or long enough inside yourself for what matters most to you.

The next time you find yourself facing a blank page, ask yourself what matters to you... and see if the answer to that question helps draw the words out of your inner mind, your inner well.

For more on writing what matters, visit:

To read more about Adeline Yen Mah and her work, visit her website:

And for more on the poet, Philip Larkin, check out:

1 comment:

Susan L. Lipson said...

Great blog. I myself wrote about writing words that matter on my blog. Come check it out: Kindred spirits!