“To Pay Attention, This is Our Endless and Proper Work.” Mary Oliver

As a visiting author I often talk to students about the art of writing. I include this quotation by Mary Oliver in my Storing Up Treasures presentation. This is what is required of writers—to pay attention. We observe the tiniest details in life, things that others may pass by or over, and we hold onto them, treasure them, until we find the perfect place in our stories, poems, essays, where that detail will shine. Often I ask the students about their busy after school activities. They play soccer, basketball, baseball; they are in girl scouts or boy scouts. Then I ask who goes home and does absolutely NOTHING. A few raise their hands. They are reticent to let their classmates know that they “don’t have a life.” I surprise them. I tell them they are the perfect candidates for being great writers. Not that writers don’t have a life. Not that we shouldn’t be out there doing and observing and journaling. But sometimes we need quiet time. What are words without reflection? And when we have these still moments, we can pull out our journals and begin to put pen to paper, fingers to keyboard. As Mary Oliver said, we cannot help but to “pay attention, this is our endless and proper work.”