The Art of Writing & Being the River

My mind has been blank, struggling to find a suitable blogging subject. I wanted it to be thoughtful, inspiring, and true to me as a person and a writer, but I was left with only that white, empty page staring back at me. That cursor blinking in its sidewise mocking grin.

I’m a list-maker, so I thought about making some resolution-oriented lists, in the spirit of the New Year, as well as Penny, the main character in my upcoming picture book, Penny & Jelly.   9780544230149_lres

But it felt stilted and forced.

I was trying too hard. Forcing ideas, when they should be flowing. Then the image of a river popped into my head, along with a phrase: “Be the river.”    river3

Being the River—going with the literal flow—seems to be a theme in my life lately, something that I struggle with and yearn to be able to do. Generally speaking, I’m trying to be more mindful, to be in the moment, rather than on zombie-auto-pilot. I think this is what has drawn me to writing for children, and picture books in particular. Reading them, and especially writing them, awakens the awe of the moment. The act of writing helps to rekindle and re-invent child-like spirit and wonder—those joyful moments that touch our hearts and souls, rather than the everyday routine, stress and deadlines that rob us of that ability to stop and ponder. If we choose to let them, that is. It is a choice, though it sometimes feels otherwise.


How to live the moment? For me, the moment comes in poetry, in words that conjure both image and feeling, a taste on my tongue. I am reminded of Joyce Sidman’s lovely poem entitled, “How to Find a Poem” which appears in her collection of chants in What the Heart Knows. In this poem, she shares the experience of finding and rejoicing in the moment:


Wake with a dream-filled head.

Stumble awake into the morning,

barely aware of how the sun

is laying down strips of silver

after three days rain,

of how the puddles

are singing with green.

Look up, startled

at the crackle of something large

moving through the underbrush.

Your pulse jumping,

gaze into its beautiful face.

The wary doe’s body,

the soft flames of ears.

As it bounds away,

listen to the rhythm

of your own heart’s disquiet.

Burn into memory

the white flag of its parting.

Before you return

to house and habit,

cast your eyes into the shadows,

where others stand waiting

On delicate hooves.


For me, the moment comes in nature, and sensory experience, another reason I find Sidman’s poem so touching and meaningful, and why my nonfiction books are rooted in the natural world:


A motionless hummingbird     hummingbird


The whisper of crackled leaves, still hanging on their branches


Crunching snow underfoot  snow


The white-tail flag of the deer as it leaps away


When those moments come into our writing, creating and reading experience, we are transported: we transcend time and space and just are. Like the river.

So how can we be like the river on a daily basis? One thing that I’ve begun to try is meditation—just something simple—listening to my breath, the actual sensation of breath, riding in and out like waves, rising and falling. I try to quiet my mind in its ocean depths beneath the surface. But it’s hard to tune things out. Still, in the act of trying, there are fleeting moments of quiet before my to-do list of stuff infiltrates.  I’m working on trying to accept them. To notice them for what they are, but to not let them take root. They are driftwood on the river. But sometimes they damn up, and block the river’s flow …

But let’s be real: I don’t do this often enough; things get pushed aside for the mundane—I even had a disagreement with my daughter while attempting to be in the moment—thanks to two consecutive snow days :).


Still, I will try. Being the river takes practice.    river1


Sometimes the moments are ordinary. But strung together, they are pearls, shining and spectacular, much like one of my favorite movies, Richard Linklater’s Boyhood. They are the woven tapestry of the main character Mason’s life, filmed over the course of twelve years. A character at the end of the film reveals the movie’s theme when she says, “You know how everyone’s always saying seize the moment? I don’t know, I’m kind of thinking it’s the other way around, you know, like the moment seizes us.”


So this is what I wish for you: in your work and in your play, in your writing or creating art, music, anything: be the river. Here’s to finding the joy, and the moments that seize us all.



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Maria writes fiction and nonfiction picture books while dog Becca snores at her feet. This is what they do when they’re not writing (or snoring).  Her debut picture book, Penny & Jelly: The School Show, illustrated by Thyra Heder will be published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in July 2015, with a second Penny & Jelly book to follow in Spring 2016. Maria has both fiction and  nonfiction picture books forthcoming from Roaring Brook Press,  Aladdin Books and Boyds Mills Press. She is represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette of Erin Murphy Literary. To learn more, please visit her website:, or visit Maria at Facebook.

Photos of Maria & Becca by Monogram Arts Photo.



Filed under Creativity, Uncategorized

18 responses to “The Art of Writing & Being the River

  1. Cathy Ballou Mealey

    I love Sidman’s poem – I love how the ending “On delicate hooves.”

    Each time I read it, I find myself pondering – what are the deer thinking?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. mariagianferrari

    I love the ending too, Cathy–it feels magical! There are tons of deer here where I live. I love seeing their tracks in the snow.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Lovely. Just what I needed to read as I mount the stairs to write. Thank you, Maria.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Lois

    Thank you for a beautiful post, Maria.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. mariagianferrari

    Thanks, Lindsey & Lois! Happy writing!


  6. rubineleanor

    The poem you included and the reference to “Boyhood” both illustrate your thoughts beautifully. The photos of water, colorful winged creatures and winter white evoke the very meditative moment’s you are describing. Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Janet Fox

    I love this, Maria. I’m a huge believer in moment-seizing!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. mariagianferrari

    Thank you, Elly & Janet for reading it!


  9. tamaraellissmith

    Thank you for this, Maria. Be the river. Yes. I struggle with this every day and have tried to incorporate ways to remind myself, like meditating and yoga and just breathing, yup. Not easy, but so important and so wonderful when it happens. The reminder today is greatly appreciated!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. mariagianferrari

    I seem to more often fail than succeed, but the act of trying, being aware is important. Thanks for your comments, Tam!


  11. Beautiful. You just changed how I will approach the day.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. mariagianferrari

    Have a great day, Megan!


  13. Thanks, Maria. I have been covered up this week and feeling guilty for neglecting my writing due to my To-Do list! I needed to hear this!
    And this was perfect for me. Here’s why. I have 3 sisters. We grew up in Colorado and spent a ton of time at the beautiful river just down the driveway from our house. As adults, we all discovered the the river was the place each of us went when we were sad or needing peace. I remember siting by myself and thinking and talking to the river. Or skipping rocks. I didn’t know my sister’s were doing the same thing until we talked about it as adults. So your post really struck a chord with me. I need to think of my river. It can be my meditation. Ok…this is long 🙂 Bye!

    Liked by 1 person

  14. mariagianferrari

    I hope you find your river today, Penny! I sometimes also listen to ocean waves, birdsong, and rain & find the sounds inspiring too.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Thoughtful, inspiring, and true, Maria. Thank you for putting it out there! xoxo

    Liked by 1 person

  16. mariagianferrari

    xo back to you, Laurie! 🙂


  17. This is really wonderful. And a great reminder for me today (and every day!).

    Liked by 1 person

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