We know that writers walk and that walking can aid in creative insight. But what is the link between, say, walking in the woods and your innate creative energy?
The woods and writing have wedged a union in my imagination since I was a boy scribbling notes beneath trees and carving initials on bark. Thoreau later cinched for me the link between what we do on the page and what earth does on the ground. And when Jacques Derrida introduced me in Of Grammatology to his take on the Chinese word “Wen” – nature, culture, poetry, constellations, tracks, writing, marks – I thought I had found something comparable to “the Word.” It’s possible you could track writing’s origins to Chinese men’s perceptions of marks made on tortoise shells. So goes one theory. We call our homestead “Wen.”
Now comes author Tina Welling’s latest book Writing Wild: Forming a Creative Partnership with Nature published by New World Library (Thank you, NWL Publicity Director Monique Muhlenkamp for leading me to Welling and WW.). Like the best essayist, Welling wanders deep into the woods of her thinking through how the natural world holds the wellspring of our natural creative impulse. Writing Wild offers no simplistic tips and exercises. Instead, it offers a steady companion for anyone wanting to take a walk with that wild side that yearns truly to feel alive again on the page and on the ground.
I was curious what books mattered to Welling and am grateful to share with you those titles in this latest Books That Matter feature. A few surprises turn up, and she divulges details of the mammoth novel that irritated her – a great insight about some writers’ and editors’ apparent lack of attention for their readers.
Jeffrey: What one book most took off the top of your head (Dickinson on poetry) or was “the axe for the frozen sea within” you (Kafka) or otherwise just changed something profound within you? What did it do for you? Maybe a book that lit you up as a child or that turned you on as a young adult or last week that salved some pain or turned your thinking upside-down.
Tina: Memories, Dreams, Reflections by C. G. Jung is the book that set me on the path of my own individuation process – a term I hadn’t been familiar with before the investigation of Jung’s ideas that followed reading this book. Jung’s memoir opened up whole new layers of awareness for me. Suddenly I understood that everything mattered, that nothing should be dismissed, that life was on our side. And I felt validated in my perspectives of life that hadn’t been shared by others I knew or the educational and spiritual institutions that were foundations of my early life. From reading this book I began to build an inner sense of confidence in myself and my choices.
What one detail do you still recall from that book?
I often recall the story of Jung “doing whatever occurred” to him, when he parted ways with Freud and felt so lost. It occurred to Jung to build a village with pebbles and small stones beside the lake, as he’d done as a small boy. By the time the village was complete, he knew what to do with his life. I love this story. By its simple teaching, it throws us back onto ourselves and exercises our trust in our own wisdom. Plus the image of this great man playing with pebbles on the beach allows me to accept whatever silly thing occurs to me and go with it.
The book you imagined/imagine living inside of is what?
For sometime after reading it, I imagined living inside Isak Dinesin’s Out of Africa.
After I read it, I searched for every other book I could find that would tell me more about Isak Dinesin’s time in Africa, for example Letters from Africa. I loved her courage, her desire to make a difference, to be personally special, to express herself, to love and be loved. Even her shadow side intrigued me: her mammoth ego, her desire to control, her possessiveness over material things and people, including the entire tribe of KiKuyu living near her.
The kinds of books you are appreciating or seeking these days are what?
Memoirs. I enjoy learning about the inner lives of public people. I like being able to trace their thoughts and emotions to their resulting actions in the world. This may be because my newest book tells so much of my own personal story and I am facing the situation of having my inner life in the hands of readers. Whereas before I wrote novels and I was shielded somewhat by fiction, I’m now hanging out there for all to read.
What kinds of books irritate you most?
Recently, I was in bed reading an enormous, several hundred page novel by a writer I have always admired. But by page 450 I was murmuring angry remarks to myself over the lack of editing and the verbose wanderings off topic. I won’t name him, because I have liked his past novels very much and I like him personally. But I turned page and page, my lips moving with my complaints in this last work of his. Soon I found myself flipping pages with just a quick scan, eyes traveling down the middle of the page, because even the language had become dull and mediocre. I ranted out loud then. I accused his editor of being too afraid to edit such a successful author and famous name and, finally, I slammed the book shut with pages unread. So to sum up, I am irritated by books requesting that the reader offer their full attention, yet were not seemingly given that by the writers and editors.
You will read anything written by whom?
A poet turned novelist.
I am usually rewarded with a thoughtful book written in beautiful, succinct language. I learn about the craft of writing from such books
Survey: Roughly what % of books do you read digitally versus in paper? (What’s your preferred reader?)
Less than 5% of my reading is done digitally. I love to hold the books, write in the margins, underline passages, tab their pages and flip pages forward and backward, studying how the subject was pulled together. And often I like to just sit holding the physical book at a page while I wander off on a thought that was triggered. With a digital reader (I use the basic Kindle, when I do read from it) the page turns dark and the e-reader turns itself off.
The little-known book you most relish and champion is what?
Crossing Unmarked Snow by the poet William Stafford. It is an insightful book about creative energy and I return to it again and again to become reassured and inspired.
If you had the time, talent, grit, and support, the book you would write is what?
I would love to write a young-adult environmental mystery, preferably a series, one that addresses in an engaging way the issues that will face their generation, even more than my own currently. I would love to engender a deep connection to the planet and all the live things on it through these novels. This imaginary novel-series of mine would be peopled with beloved characters facing and easing the mining issues, wildlife imbalances, farming and animal industries, on and on. In fact, I mess around with this YA novel idea in an unintentional way, while sitting outside at the end of my “real” work time. So far, it’s been my fantasy project
What you hope most readers of Writing Wild come away with is what?.
I hope readers of WRITING WILD: Forming a Creative Relationship with Nature, come away with a deepened sense of awareness for the natural world, their own creative energy, and an understanding of how the two work together, enhancing and strengthening each other. We live in a reciprocal, creative world, full of patterns for our lives.
To find out more about Tina Welling’s books visit tinawelling.com.