By Lisa Robinson
Every summer we go to Brooklin, Maine, (you read that right, it’s Brooklin, not Brooklyn) and rent a cottage one mile down the road from E.B. White’s farmhouse. On one side of the cottage, a grassy field rolls down to a rocky beach strewn with seaweed, shells, and sea glass. On the other side, towering pine trees march to the shoreline. I like to think that the spirit of E.B. White imbues this landscape with creativity and inspiration.
Each year I bring home new additions to my sea glass collection—brown, green, blue, clear, and occasionally purple pieces—and place them into a jar on my bedside table. Small and large, jagged and smooth, shiny and dull, the shards wink at me during the long, cold New England winter, reminding me of summer. Combing the beach for sea glass year after year has shown me the best way to find these mementos, or at least, the best way for me. Perhaps others have a different strategy. What I’ve discovered is that if I search for sea glass head-on, eyes glued to the beach, it’s unlikely that I will find it. No matter how far and wide I pace, focus and determination rarely produce results.
However, when I soften my focus and stroll the beach in a leisurely fashion—with one of my daughters at my side, waves splashing my feet, seagulls soaring overhead—it’s likely that I will stumble upon a sea-glass treasure. It might be lurking under a rock, a seaweed frond, or a clam shell. One day it occurred to me that this was exactly how the inspiration for my story ideas comes to me.
If I go looking for an idea, I don’t usually find one. But if I maintain loose attention for ideas as I go about my day—reading the newspaper, making a meal, talking with clients, jogging through the woods, watching my kids at the circus gym—the ideas often pop up. In fact, I’ve discovered that this kind of unfocused, mindful attention often results in more ideas than I know what do with.
However, not every piece of sea glass goes into my pocket to join the ones at home in my jar. Some are too shiny and fresh—newly broken glass—and some are too similar to pieces I already have. I leave those on the beach for others to find. Similarly, when I come across a story idea, I have criteria for whether or not I store it in a file for later use. The main one I use is my emotional response: do I feel a tickle of excitement? Can I imagine spending a lot of time working on the idea without losing enthusiasm? Do I wish I could abandon my current project and dive right into this shiny new one? (I try not to do that—but that’s a topic for another day).
Our annual summer vacation in Maine—a time when I don’t write—has taught me one of my most important writing lessons: if I wander through my day with my mind open to possibilities, ideas inevitably wash up on the shore of my imagination.
Inspiration is everywhere.
Lisa Robinson is a child psychiatrist and author of four forthcoming picture books. Her debut picture book PIRATES DON’T GO TO KINDERGARTEN (Two Lions) arrives on July 9, 2019. You can find her at author-lisa-robinson.com or on Twitter: @elisaitw