Sometimes it’s a word, sometimes a phrase. But most often it’s a line, just one line. And it sticks with me, stays in my head like a song on repeat. If the line had a melody, I’d hum it to myself as I walked down the street, or I’d sing it out loud (despite my inability to carry a tune), hoping others would catch on. But unlike a song playing over and over again, the lines I usually get lack a melody and I have to let them sit for days, or weeks, or sometimes even longer, until I find myself truly in-tuned and ready to hear them sing to me.
On good days, writing flows. I’ll get more than a line; I’ll get pages and I’ll have to rush to keep up with it. It’s like a song that writes itself: words and melody, arriving together. Perfectly. My fingers move too slowly; my bad spelling and keyboard mistakes only get in the way. And I’m overcome with excitement, with emotion, with energy. It’s addicting.
On other days, though, (and I should actually say, on most days) I’ll get a line, just one line, and it will become my challenge.
I’ve stopped trying too hard to understand it. The lines come when they do and I let them in. Then I observe the way they color my world and I begin to see the lines expressed in everything around me. A few months ago came the line: “It’s hard to see when you’ve got sleepiness in your eyes.” It was a call to wake up, to really pay attention. It was a challenge to be more alert. Suddenly, I became aware of people who’ve become complacent and who seem to sleep while standing up, walking with no apparent upright purpose.
And I began to wonder if I was one of them.
The story that will flow from that line hasn’t been written yet because I’m still living it. I’m still in it, still wiping the sleepiness from my own eyes so that I can truly see.
Sometime before that came the line, or rather the question: “Can two people speak constantly and say nothing?” And if so, it made me wonder, can two people sit in silence, and in the absence of words, say all that needs to be said? I started to think about the old ones, the ones who can tell an entire story without uttering a sound. It’s in the lift of their chin, their furrowed brow, their aged and sun-colored skin, their curious eyes. It made me think about how I use words, how they travel with me as my companions, and how I’ve come to rely on them.
And I began to wonder, with all of my words and lines, if I ever have anything of substance to say.
The story that will flow from that line hasn’t been written yet either because I’m still living it. I’m still in it. It’s pushed me to pay more attention to my conversations with people, to listen to what is being said and what isn’t, and to seek the expressed in the unexpressed.
The power of these lines, these single lines, is that they challenge me as a writer and more so, as a person. I try to find the balance between living a life worth writing about and writing about a life I’d like to live, or the balance between wild word imagination and reality. I think we need a little of both. What the lines do is give me a glimpse into a way to live better, to live deeper, to live with more purpose. And, really, it’s that kind of life that’s worth writing about anyway. It doesn’t have to be big and grand, just meaningful. So I let the lines take me there, towards purpose.
And then, when I find some sort of meaning in it all, that’s what I attempt to share with you: more than just a line, but a journey.
So start with a word, with a phrase, or with a line and see where it takes you. Happy writing.