I already tumbled this fabulous quote from Terri Windling's blog, but I'm putting it up here too (not least because, um, cleanliness wasn't meant to stay at the top of ye old Shaken & Stirred for a whole week–oops):
"What you need to know about [your next piece of art] is contained in the last piece. The place to learn about your materials is in the last use of your materials. The place to learn about your execution is in your execution. The best information about what you love is in your last contact with what you love. Put simply, your work is your guide: a complete, comprehensive, limitless reference book on your work. There is no other such book, and it is yours alone. It functions this way for no one else. Your fingerprints are all over your work, and you alone know how they got there. Your work tells you about your working methods, your discipline, your strengths and weaknesses, your habitual gestures, your willingness to embrace.
"The lessons you are meant to learn are in your work. To see them, you need only look at the work clearly — without judgement, without need or fear, without wishes or hopes. Without emotional expectations. Ask your work what it needs, not what you need. Then set aside your fears and listen, the way a good parent listens to a child." — David Bayles & Ted Orland, Art & Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking
First off, I'll definitely be seeking out Art & Fear, just based on this snippet.
Anyway, this quote immediately made me think of one of the wisest things anyone ever said to me about writing, one of those lessons that I come back to often. The advice, because I think it does qualify as advice, came from Tim Wynne-Jones (recent Horn Book award winner–yay!) in an early packet response my first semester of grad school. What he said was essentially that we give ourselves the solutions to the problems we encounter in our work. That when really and truly stumped, the answer is often to be found hidden, obscured, embedded somewhere on the page. The subconscious is a tricksy beast. I have found that this is a great and powerful truth.
When I really can't find the answer, no matter how much long dog walking and listening to playlists and banging head against desk and vacuuming I've done, I go back to what I have and I look at it and I think about it and I usually do find the answer in hiding there, right in front of me. Occasionally it's the absence of something that's the answer, or that something feels wrong, but often enough it's a grace note, an image or a line that appeared and that I didn't understand the importance of yet. When I give notes to someone else or talk out my own plots (Christopher is very patient on the dog walks where this happens, and sometimes we talk out his too), often that's what I come around to. It's that "OH! It's already in there! I just didn't RECOGNIZE it!" moment.
We give ourselves the answers we need, we only have to be willing to look for them.* Every piece is its own secret decoder ring.
Unrelated, but amazing, a feature slide show of photographs of aging dogs from Nancy LeVine's Senior Dogs Across America.
*Of course, for this to work you have to make pages where the answers can hide first. That is the Greatest Secret of All: Everything is possible once you make the pages.