Here we are, y’all! This is the last free edition of The Core Stories before paid subscriptions are required for reading. That feels scary to say, but I put hours into each one of these things, and I hope — I think — they’re worth something. I hope you find them valuable, too.
Once you hit the button to subscribe (unless you’ve paid to subscribe already — hi! thank you!), you’ll continue to get one of these newslessays in your inbox every Thursday. Like the one below, each will include a brief reflection on the practice of writing, plus a writing-related quote and prompt.
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1 | ON CREATIVE INSTINCT
You know what’s underrated about hummingbirds? Their song. Okay, it’s not really a song. It’s more like manic chirping, the notes squeaky and delightfully rhythmless.
I’m at this Airbnb right now in a California town you’ve probably never heard of. I booked it at the last minute after a quick search for private spots with hot tubs, essentially. (Listen. Let me live my three-day fantasy. Otherwise, it’s all wild turkeys and deer and mosquitoes out here, plus charred Keurig coffee.) It turns out, the hot tub is closer to lukewarm, but that’s okay. There are forest views from the back patio, so I can work outside, glancing up from my computer every so often at the lush expanse of green.
There’s this hummingbird. It keeps perching on the string lights out in front of me, opening its tiny beak and twittering its small but insistent sounds. And then it lifts in jolts before it dives back down to a different segment of the wire, where it pauses again to offer its version of proselytizing, making the whole backyard scene its stage. On and on, for minutes. Make noise, swirl, settle, make noise again, swirl, until it eventually darts off, its bright throat glinting in the sun.
It’s not looking at me. It’s looking off at the trees in the distance, like it’s calling somebody, like it’s telling somebody off. It’s a little bit pompous. Is it pissed? Celebrating? But nobody is coming. Nobody is listening to that tiny, pretty little beak. Except me, of course. Doesn’t matter. That sweet creature, usually so swift and scattered and aww, how cute, has stopped for a moment here, with something it apparently needs to say. Until it’s just…done.
On the page, I feel freer to express the parts of my mind and heart that might otherwise appear too dark or ugly or stringent or sloppy or [insert adjective a woman is not supposed to be] for polite company. Writing is a good way to practice being boldly assertive, because I get to fabricate my own public stage where I’ll never blubber or stumble — I have editing power, plus all the time I need to perfect a punchy sentence. Nobody can interrupt me or throw tomatoes at my face until I’m done. All of this is far less scary than speaking my mind (or unspooling my feels) out loud.
That all-powerful, narrated version of me isn’t the whole me, though. When I write, I’m writing a version of my life. A moment of it. I’m writing the stuff I don’t always say out loud, but the stuff I say out loud — in interactive, spontaneous conversation — matters, too. I sometimes have to remind loved ones of this: I know I’m expressing sadness in that essay, but don’t worry too much. I am not all sad, or I’m not sad anymore. It’s just, the internal sadness needed someplace to go.
That’s often how inspiration happens for me: something bubbles and billows until it must be expressed. Once it’s out, I feel better, and I can go back to being the quiet hummingbird at the hibiscus flower for a little while, flirting at the petals while she sips that sweet nectar gently. Eventually, the creative force rises up in me again, and it says, as it always does: Enough imbibing. Make something of it. You must.
Wait. What if that hummingbird wasn’t saying anything at all? What if it was just…making noise? What if that is enough?
They’re called hummingbirds for their wings: how quickly they move, with those humming whirs! But you do not have to be known just for how fast you advance through the world, how small and shiny you are — how productive! How sweet!
You can stop to let the steam out. To reflect, to insist, to perform. Let me remind you of the hummingbird vocalizations again — nope, not song. Here. Listen:
That hummingbird’s calls had a purpose, I’m sure, but I’d suspect that the noisemaking wasn’t precisely a decision so much as it was an urge. That urge is in you, too.
Whatever you make doesn’t have to be big and significant, it doesn’t have to mean anything, it doesn’t have to change the world; in fact, maybe nobody will hear it. You can shout it out anyway. That’s the truest, most reliable way to engage with the muse. Often, the muse is only another word for instinct.
2 | A QUOTE TO KEEP CLOSE
“There’s nothing wrong with having a spark, an idea, and nurturing it as long as your inspiration lasts. Then you can put it in a drawer, and that inspiration will come back. Of course, it’s everything in moderation. You can go too far and drop the ball. What I’ve been finding with myself, as someone who ‘suffers’ from ADHD ‘disorder,’ is that it’s okay to have a library or archive of ideas happening at the same time. I’m someone that reads two books at the same time, that makes two albums at the same time. As soon as I lose that initial interest, I need to breathe.
Another aspect of my breathing theory is that if you’re doing a project, it’s okay that everything will be a mess. It’s okay that your room will totally fall apart. That’s like the exhale. Then the inhale is when you’re done and you clean everything up. It’s almost like a celebratory thing, when you clean up. Cleaning up is celebratory. Chaos within the creation is great—you know the special pen is underneath that pile of paper and it’s all organized in this crazy way. No one else would understand it. It’s like your natural amoebic understanding of your process.”
- Alexandra Drewchin, aka Eartheater, in an interview with The Creative Independent
3 | A PROMPT YOU CAN USE
Take a walk. Pay attention. Pick the first thing that catches your eye — maybe it’s a hummingbird. It’s a leaf, a reflective window, a heart-shaped crack in the sidewalk. Stop there, pull out your phone, open your Notes app, and write about it. Why’s it interesting? How’s it related to the conflicts present in your life right now? What’s its message, however silly or brief?