Today, the nation watched in awe as Amanda Gorman read her powerful poem “The Hill We Climb” at President Joe Biden’s inauguration—and then immediately Googled everything she’s ever said and written. I ended up swiping through the young poet’s Instagram Stories, where she did a Q&A with her followers a few months ago, sharing thoughts on writing and staking a claim in the world that will resonate with anyone trying to do creative work:
On where her inspiration comes from:
Rarely does a writer say “I’m gonna have a great idea” and it comes. Instead you have to wait lovingly, preparing a place for inspiration to strike in your life. It’s like tending soil, though you might not have seeds yet, so that when they do arrive, they can thrive. For me this “gardening” is staying curious and open and disciplined, sucking in the light of the world until one ray hits my tilted earth just right.
On how she knows a poem is finished:
I keep editing a poem until the moment I perform it. I’ve scratched out pieces with lipstick right before I took the stage. But I do try not to force edits. Instead I focus on what is the feeling that I want the reader/ear to receive from this poem? The gift? And once I sense the poem has arrived there I lift my hands and let it fly.
On uncertainty, in her career and in life:
Things especially now feel so uncertain. I counteract it by being very communicative and explicit with myself and others about what I want from my life, because the world’s job isn’t to bring me those joys on a silver platter. It’s my job to pull up a seat to the restaurant table and demand my order.
On her advice for young writers:
Read everything three times.
1. For pleasure.
2. To learn from the writer’s style.
3. To think how you could write it better.