Patrons of writing and teaching: Winnie-the-Pooh

“Pooh And Piglet Writing Notebook.” (Available from Pooh Corner online store.)

I haven’t done a Patron of Writing in a while now, and with all the hard writing work I have ahead of me this week, I figured it was time to bring out Pooh-Bear.

I’ve loved Winnie-the-Pooh since I was an infant (I still have my Pooh-Bear, faded and misshapen after all these years; my wife recently repaired a very old rip in his neck, much to my profound delight), and like many fans of Pooh, I’ve loved our favorite bear for more than his Disney incarnation: true frequenters of The Hundred-Acre Wood have long valued Pooh-Bear for his simple wisdom and his kindness. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the popular philosophy books The Tao of Pooh and The Te of Piglet. But in recent years, I have come to know Pooh as a writing mentor as well.

Winnie-the-Pooh. (I only have the cover of my old card–I cut the back off a long time ago–so if you know who printed this, send me a note so I can credit the copyright owner.)

It started, I think, with a birthday card I received years ago. The cover of the card shows Pooh holding a blank notebook, the pages folded back, as he furrows his brow and scratches his head with a pencil (in his left hand, the same hand I write with). Beneath that, the card reads, “The hardest thing about writing,” thought Pooh, “is finding the right words.”

I cherished the card so much I stuck it on my office door at work, and it has followed me to every office door since then. Now that I’m writing from home, I’ve stuck it onto the inside of my writing desk, where I can always remember that I’m not alone in the struggle to find the right words.

Then, just a year ago, my wife gave me a small Winnie-the-Pooh statue. It’s a simple letter, just a sweeping serif S, and it’s meant for children, something to decorate a nursery perhaps, but I adore it. For one thing, I am a child at heart and hope to always remain so. But more importantly, the statue shows Pooh kneeling at the foot of the S, bent over a waving sheet of paper, a large red quill in his hand. (This Pooh is a righty, but I’ll forgive him.) It was a perfect gift, and now it, too, adorns my writing desk.

“Pooh Writing.” Winnie-the-Pooh (c) Disney; statue design (c) 2006 Enesco Ltd.

In A. A. Milne’s brilliant classic Winnie-the-Pooh, Eeyore complains about “[t]his writing business. Pencils and what-not. Over-rated, if you ask me. Silly stuff. Nothing in it.”

But Pooh, champion of writing, has a different idea. For him, the joy of the process is what’s important, and he understands, in his simple way, that sometimes you just have to push through the “silly stuff” until you find what’s great. He is, in fact, an advocate of the writing exercise: while writing a song in Winnie-the-Pooh, he explains to Piglet, “I shall sing that first line twice, and perhaps if I sing it very quickly, I shall find myself singing the third and fourth lines before I have time to think of them, and that will be a Good Song.”

He also advocates for the writing workshop. In The House at Pooh Corner, Pooh seeks out Piglet as a reader and asks for his comments on a new poem. Piglet (apparently an experienced workshopper), begins with some general praise for the poem but then offers some specific, concrete advice on how to improve it: he likes the poem, he says, “All except the shillings […]. I don’t think they ought to be there.”

Pooh is eager for a discussion of craft, though, and he decides to explain more about his process: “They wanted to come in after the pounds,” explained Pooh, “so I let them. It is the best way to write poetry, letting things come.”

It takes a lot of patience, I know, to simply “let things come” in the writing. Especially if what come are not the right words. But the point, I think, is to stick it out, to keep coming back to the writing, and to enjoy the process. I’ve been struggling a lot with a particular story this past week, and I needed Pooh to remind me of that.

So now I’m going back to the writing. I shall write the first sentence twice, and perhaps if I write it very quickly, I shall find myself writing the third and fourth sentences, and so on. If I let them, the right words will come.

* I’m not the first person to recognize Pooh’s influence of us writers: for another cool post on Pooh, check out “The Winnie-the-Pooh method of writing” over at Thoughts From Mystery Hollow.

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