How a good poet is more like a scientist

The nineteenth-century mathematician Bernhard Riemann once said, “I did not invent those pairs of differential equations. I found them in the world, where God had hidden them.” When I stumble across metaphors in the course of writing, it feels much more like discovery than creating; the words and images seem to be choosing me, and not the other way around. And when I manipulate them in the interest of hospitality, in order to make a comprehensible work of art, I have to give up any notion of control.

-Kathleen Norris, The Cloister Walk, p.217

I think this is why with many arts across the board, be it poetry, composing music, writing, painting, etc. many of the very best works come from the people with a really high output. Not everything they produce is great – in fact much of it is mediocre, but their output is huge. What are they doing? They are not fabricating new things out of thin air hoping some of them turn out beautiful. No, rather they are more like a scientists working in a lab, carefully researching the chemical properties of a material. They find out what works and what doesn’t by lots of experimentation, lots of trial and error, lots of repetitions and tests. They are discovering beauty and meaning and power that was ALREADY THERE through their relentless research.

Do these two words go together with this metaphor and provoke an emotional response and connection to this idea over here? No. Hmm, how about these words? How about these. Well, I tried a hundred different ones and didn’t quite find what I was hoping for, but I learned some other pretty good combinations in the process. Maybe they’ll come in handy later. Just keep writing. Just keep working.