Poets & Writers

A New Path to the Waterfall

AN EARLY poem by Raymond Carver called “Looking for Work” opens with these lines: “I have always wanted brook trout / for breakfast. // Suddenly, I find a new path / to the waterfall.” The poem, collected in A New Path to the Waterfall (Atlantic Monthly Press, 1989), is, like much of Carver’s work, enigmatic and spare, but I’ve always read it as a parable of the artist’s search for creativity and originality. When I’m stuck on a story, or when every word I write sounds trite and tired, I sometimes find myself quietly saying, “I need to find a new path to the waterfall.”

But how to find that path? How to leave the safe, well-traveled road without getting lost in the woods?

For me, the answer seems to lie in a regular return to those most basic tools of writing: pen and ink on paper. Several times a year, I print out a copy of whatever I’m working on, settle into the comfy chair beside our gas fireplace, and read the manuscript from beginning to end, making revisions as I go. I am always surprised by how revising my work the old-fashioned way, with a pen on paper, rekindles the spark that started me writing the piece in the first place.

MICHAEL BOURNE is a contributing editor of Poets & Writers Magazine.

Like many writers, I mostly work

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