I subscribe to Stephanie Bennett Vogt’s newletter, Your Spacious Self: short, inspirational nuggets on clearing out clutter (a constant battle in our house), and, what makes Vogt’s concept different, clearing out muddled thinking in the process. Yesterday, she simply posted this Rilke quote, which, as the Quakers would put it, “spoke to my condition.”


“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart … The questions themselves are like locked rooms, like books written in a foreign tongue. … Live the questions now, and perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”

Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet, from “Letter Four”. Translated by M.D. Herter [and ammended by me]. Norton, New York, 1954.


I’m grappling with big questions now: What will my next novel be about? If La Grande Mademoiselle, might it be more than one novel? What about a novel about Athénäis? I’m trying to condense my galaxy of thoughts into an email to Dan, my adopted mentor, before leaving for Europe in one week.

The To Do List grows—preparation for the trip, but also, the nuts and bolts of the writing life: fax to my UK publisher about buying some of the remaindered copies of The Lives & Sorrows of Josephine B.; a Q&A to fill out for M.J. Rose’s Powell‘s blog, due this month; research preparation for the trip; a letter to decline a request to “blurb” a book (I’m already committed to one right now); Sandra Gulland Inc. bookkeeping; many emails to answer, especially those wishing to pin down a date for an event.

All this is urgent and pressing, but most of it is “author” work. The all-essential work, the work of the “writer,” seems so easily overtaken.