It might sound crazy, but I think my obsession with pockets has helped in my struggle to improve my writing. Let me explain.
As part of the generation reared alongside a certain boy wizard, the memories of reading Harry Potter books the day they came to my door on hot summer mornings left an indelible mark on me. After the series ended, and I got older, I realized that I was consistently drawn back to the initial book in the series, and to many of the more mundane facts about this strange world. Chief among the objects of my fascination was Rubeus Hagrid’s moleskin coat. According to the Harry Potter Wikia, and supported by different passages in the book, the contents of this coat’s pockets were as follows:
- a pink umbrella
- a slightly squashed chocolate cake
- a copper kettle
- a packet of sausages
- a fire poker
- a teapot
- several chipped mugs
- a bottle of “some amber liquid” (I see you, Hagrid, I see you)
- a live owl
- a long quill
- a roll of parchment
- a dirty, spotted handkerchief, which might actually just be a tablecloth
- a couple of dormice
- bunches of keys
- slug pellets
- balls of string
- mint humbugs (British impersonations of candy)
- wizard money
- moldy dog biscuits
- Harry’s vault key
Finding this passage again, I thought “This must be how it started.” You see, since I was a kid, I have always needed to have as many pockets on my person as possible, and if you were to stop me on the street and demand I empty them, you would find them all full. Hagrid’s coat was a kind of holy grail. Who would ever need to carry a bag if they had a coat where they could stuff an owl? Every pair of jeans I own has five pockets, every jacket has at least two outer and one inside pocket, and I usually wear button-downs with one or two breast pockets. Those who know me well might remember me jokingly challenging friends to “the pocket game,” where whoever has the most stuffed in each of their pockets wins. This was, of course, unfair, and you can probably tell that I was very popular. Yeeeeppp.
Anyway, “How does this relate to writing,” you might ask, if you were rude and enjoyed interrupting people. But you’d also be right in asking, because it does sound ridiculous. Here’s the thing: writing is all about practice. There’s that famous quote from Hemingway that “Ninety percent of writing is showing up,” and while that’s true, some percent of that is cultivating a mind that notices things, that seeks to tell the story of everything that the eye sees.
Do you have pockets? What’s in them? Where did it come from? Who made it? Would you give it to someone? What’s it for?
Do you not have pockets? What would you put in them if you did have them? What are you aching to tell the pocket-havers, and what can you share when you have nothing?
So yes, this is a strange and circuitous way of saying practice, damnit. But not just in sitting down to write. Practice thinking, noticing, and seeing behind what’s in front of you. Pockets are simple. Almost everyone has them, but you notice when they aren’t there. On the other hand, if you’re like many of the women I know, maybe you notice when they are, and especially when they’re fully functional. What else don’t you notice as much? Go out and write it. As an artist, you don’t have time off. While that might sound oppressive, it’s actually incredibly freeing. You might remember, if you’re like me, posting on author’s websites, writing in forums, or even (god help me) writing a letter asking for advice on how to get a book published when you haven’t written anything. I was eleven. It was to Christopher Paolini. I hope he never got it. Anyway, I’ve always been preoccupied with what I was going to do in the future. But when you take yourself seriously as an artist, really get into the habit of noticing things, it forces you to live in and appreciate the present moment. Get obsessed with life, with everything around you. And pay attention to the things that you are most caught up in. Chances are you’ve already noticed something about those that no one else has. So don’t freak out. Just sit back and watch, listen, and write.