A Few Lines from Donald Murray: Slice of Life 1/31 #sol20

My motto is on the wall of my writing room: nulla dies sine linea–never a day without a line. I have to keep the writing muscle exercised.

Donald Murray, Shoptalk

Lately, I begin my writing day with a few lines from Donald Murray. I don’t know that I’ve ever read anything he’s written that isn’t about writing. When he includes his own poems or prose to illustrate a point, I tend to skim to get back to the good stuff.

Murray is one of a handful of writers on writing (Natalie Goldberg, Ralph Fletcher, Amy Ludwig Vanderwater, and Penny Kittle are a few more) who reliably makes me want to write. There’s just something about how he writes about writing. I read a few lines and find myself itching to pick up my pen–always a Precise V5 Rolling Ball in blue–and write–always in a Cachet wirebound sketchbook.

You have no idea what you have to say or how you have to say it, until you put yourself in the position to receive writing.

Donald Murray, Shoptalk

I woke this morning already imagining slices. Oliver didn’t want to get out of bed, and I began writing a piece in my mind called “The thing about sleeping with cats.” (I wrote that piece last year.) I crept downstairs in the dark to make my coffee and began writing a piece about making coffee in the dark. (I wrote that piece a couple of years ago.) Cats were trying to get in my lap before I could even properly settle on the chaise, and I began to write a piece about holding cats. (I’ve written that piece too many times to count.) And how many time have I written this piece about starting over, losing the writing habit and having to begin again? (At least a dozen.)

Sometimes my writing surprises me, but often I am tilling the same ground. Cats, coffee, notebooks, morning, books, writing, the prairie. Sometimes I think I should find something else to write about, but mostly I love the predictable rhythms and routines of these small daily joys that stay the same for me even as other bigger things change.

Art begins in awareness. Writers see implication in what others pass by, noticing the extraordinary in the ordinary, using image and word to articulate feelings and thoughts. Writers draw from the well of awareness that never seems to run dry.

Donald Murray, Shoptalk

I begin again with quiet, with noticing what I have experienced without awareness these past months of not writing. The creak of the stair in the dark. The familiar pull of pen across toothy paper. The weight of a sleeping cat. The fence’s pop of yellow against patches of snow.

Wait. Enjoy the quiet. Do not fear the emptiness, welcome it, let the words come at their own time in their own order.

Donald Murray, Shoptalk

18 thoughts on “A Few Lines from Donald Murray: Slice of Life 1/31 #sol20

  1. Love the echo of Don’s words throughout your own beautiful writing. Made me think of Fran Haley’s post this morning about how our writing lives on after us, the best of us remaining.

  2. So glad you are writing again. I always look forward to reading your artfully written posts. The way you embedded Don Murray, one of my all time favorite writing mentors, into this piece is gorgeous.

  3. This, just this… “I love the predictable rhythms and routines of these small daily joys that stay the same for me even as other bigger things change.”

    So many wonderful words you have shared today. I am not familiar with this book, and the quotes you have shared make me want it. Thank you for sharing a part of Don Murray this morning.

  4. I clicked on your post because I knew I’d find a cat picture, and I wanted to see that photo. I like this focus on the furry friends you keep, and I cannot write about my cat w/out thinking about you and your feline friends. There’s something comforting in knowing what to expect from certain individuals in this community, and I’ve missed your kitties. You may have written about cats and coffee and the prairie many times, but there’s nothing redundant in exploring themes for which we feel passion.

    Also, love the Donald Murray quotes and agree: some writers make me want to write.

  5. “Wait. Enjoy the quiet. Do not fear the emptiness, welcome it, let the words come at their own time in their own order.”

    Donald Murray, Shoptalk

    Your post confirms my need to welcome the emptiness and let the words come. There is more than this challenge in the upcoming month for me. Your post motivates me to use some authors I’m reading to help me in my writing. Thank you!

  6. Thank you for stating that you continue to revisit and rewrite certain topics. As a cat mom of 2 I continually find their antics entertaining. I will definitely be writing about them again this month . . .

  7. I copied this quote “You have no idea what you have to say or how you have to say it, until you put yourself in the position to receive writing “ and sent it on to a teaching colleague. Inspiration for us and for how we teach our kiddos! Thank you, Elizabeth.

  8. Donald Murray offers such inspiration for writers and cats offer such great inspiration for topics. Looking forward to some great cat stories this month.

  9. The words came, my friend. These subjects that feel a little stale you look at with fresh eyes each time. Wyeth painted an area that was first a few acres, each time with a new perspective.

  10. Thank you for bringing Don Murray into the community on this first morning of the annual SOL Story Challenge, Elisabeth. I had resolved myself to the role of commenter this year, knowing I’m barely keeping up with my daily obligations as it is, but then I read your line, “I begin again with quiet, with noticing what I have experienced without awareness these past months of not writing.” Your words reminded me of all I am experiencing without awareness as I try to “keep up,” with (in the words of Mary Oliver) my “one wild and precious life.” Thanks for the nudge.

  11. Thank you for writing about the redundancy that is bound to happen when we’ve done this challenge a few times. I think that’s what’s daunting for repeat Slicers–what will I write about this year? I’m glad to know I’m not the only one who experiences deja vu each March!

  12. I loved the mixture of quotes, your moments from today and your thoughts. It warmed my heart to read that you have some writing areas you keep returning to. I feel I have been writing about the same things for ten years. Happy Writing!

  13. I’m so glad to see you return to blogging. I have missed your posts.

    “nulla dies sine linea” – I love those lines and am still considering that as a tattoo… Love Donald Murray’s wise words so much.

  14. Love how you interspersed Donald Murray’s lines throughout. Good luck. I’m not in this year and feeling somewhat like I’m missing a big party. I’ll be on the sidelines reading, though.

  15. The Donald Murray quotes are so inspirational! I like the reflection on what it is like to come back to the slice of life challenge after multiple years of participation. Our writing follows patterns, but so do our lives – as teachers, perhaps more so than other peoples. We write daily in March, and we anticipate spring break, and we prepare for state testing, and we wonder if our students are learning enough (or anything?) since we are 3/4 of the way through the year, etc. As teachers, we repeat, reflect, and renew. Our writing can certainly do the same.

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