Guest Post by Maya Stein

December 23rd, 2011

On Creativity and Patience

the canvas


Enough has been said about that blank space, the pause

of possibility pointing to a still-unnamed story. We don’t need

another poem about potential, or the way we bend at the knees

toward the dark tunnel we hope might lead to greatness. Instead,

I want to celebrate the opening mark of the pen, the infant half-inch of paper

glued to the upper right-hand corner. The inaugural dip of a soaked brush

that lays a line of paint down flat. The “yes” that finally tilts the doer

into doing. This poem is for that plucky charge into the gauntlet, the dogged push

through all those voices arrowing critique. This is for the stroke that bursts the bubble

clinging us to fear. The hand that reaches in not for beauty, but for rubble.


I always think art lives in us long before it comes out of us. Things take time to percolate, to take shape, to find their edge and expression. A poem can be inside of me for days, for weeks, before I finally throw my line into that great river of mystery and fish the words out.

Now, for example, a poem by the title of “crooked mouth” is swimming around in there somewhere. I’ve had those two words swirling in my mind, and occasionally when I’m driving or doing laundry or taking care of the grocery list, a little thread of the poem they’re containing reveals itself. I know…that is to say I trust…that at some point, enough threads will appear that it will be time to sit down and sort them out. And what I ALSO know and trust is that to hold myself hostage in front of my laptop before the poem is ready to be birthed is an exercise in futility and self-flagellation.

I have come to understand each poem, each work of art, is a being all its own, gestating for an indeterminate amount of time before it’s ready to materialize. I never know how long it’s going to take, only that time is the decider here, not the urgency of a blog that needs an update or a literary journal that’s bearing down with a deadline or the fact that it’s a quiet house and raining outside and a cup of coffee is to my right and what better setting to make the writing happen?

There are certain kinds of work for which imposed deadlines make me hustle in a good way, intensify my focus and powers of imagination, wrangle my skills expediently. But personal creative work is a different animal altogether, and I’ve learned that what’s required of me to write - more than a dazzling display of linguistic acrobatics or an impressive vocabulary or a large body of knowledge about poetic form - is the simple act of patience.

I say “simple” but patience is often anything but. In a world where quickness is king, it’s uncomfortable and even terrifying to have to wait for anything, and it’s easy to feel pressure when other people around us are birthing a multitude of creative projects, painting and publishing and putting their work out there as if it took no effort at all. The dizzying landscape of creativity that’s floating out there in the world can bring a false sense of immediacy and pressure to producing quickly. And so taking any time whatsoever can give us the feeling that we are falling behind, which in turn creates the worst kind of self-flagellation of all, that we are not enough.

But patience isn’t idleness. It’s not laziness. And it’s not impotence. I see patience as a vital limbo between ideation and fruition, a necessary field of space and energy where a lot gets decided, where the architecture of our work begins to assemble its bones, and where we are subconsciously sifting through our material and locating the heart of what is asking to be expressed.

It’s true that for some people, the time gap between when an idea moves into tangible form is very short. And it’s true that some ideas will take less time to be actualized than others. But I’ve found it vital to listen more closely to what my poems are telling me by giving them more space and time to find their voice. Because when the moment comes – as it inevitably does – for the piece to emerge at last, it’s more like an assembly, a transcription, a threading together. There’s a peace to it. A communion between inner and outer worlds, the fishing line taut and ready to reel the mystery in.


MAYA STEIN is a poet and creative nonfiction writer. She has published two collections of personal essays, "The Overture of an Apple" (2003) and "Spinning the Bottle" (2004) and, most recently, "Enough Water," a collection of poetry and photographs (2006). She has been published in a number of print and online literary journals, including Margins Magazine, Culture Star Reader, and, as well as the anthology "Lust For Life: Tales of Sex and Love." Most recently, she appeared in Six Word Memoirs' "It All Changed in an Instant" and also won first prize in Alimentum’s inaugural poetry contest. Her weekly "10-line Tuesday" poems reach nearly 900 people around the world. Maya also recently completed "Tour de Word," a two-month traveling poetry project that brought writing workshops to children, teenagers, and adults in 25 states. Maya facilitates writing workshops online at Her poetry can be found at

6 Responses

Wow, this reads so beautifully and sings so loudly to me. I agree completely that some creations need time to percolate, and that the pressure to ‘produce’ when others seem to be so prolific or when deadlines are looming can make ‘patience’ seem like some kind of failing.

This probably resonates so clearly for me right now because I haven’t picked up a brush in weeks! But it’s ok. the next painting is coming, in its own time. And when it does it may well just fall out of me, after all this time gathering itself.

I love this–and it is so true. I sometimes refer to my ideas as “gestating” and “being born.” Well worth the wait.

Wow, What a great poem. Love how it says lots for what is there. A blank space. The start of something. Thank you for posting this.

This is so beautiful and it is so important for us, as artists, to remember and not beat ourselves up when we are pausing. Thank you for sharing.

Your poem is so beautiful and it made my morning to read it… so perfect at this time of the year when so many of us are pausing in or creative practice and feeling the frustrations that come with that!!!

Love the poem. Thanks for sharing it.

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