I returned at the weekend from a short city break in Amsterdam. One of my goals while I was away, child-free, was to write as much as possible.
Strangely enough, I found it quite difficult to find a focus for writing practices when I had hours in front of me. Finally, I could write about whatever I wanted for as long as I wanted and I struggled. Sometimes I'm better at being forced to write in a half hour.
I wrote tons in my journal every day, made lots of notes, but I only started one poem based on an experience I had. I edited old work, worked on in-progress poems, but I didn't feel hit by inspiration to start new pieces. Even with the beauty of canals, tulips and tall houses all around me.
This didn't shock or bother me. I've often needed time to process experiences and ideas before I could write them. I have moved a lot in my life from country to country and alot of my writing is based around places I have lived or visited. For a long time I felt I could never write about a place while I lived in it. Which wasn't strictly true, but I wrote more about Greece years after I left it than I did when I was in the middle of the adventure. Once I lived in Scotland for 17 years that changed. I couldn't wait that long.
Sometimes we don't see a moment for what it is or we need time and space to analyse the importance of an event before we can start to shape it into a poem or other piece of writing. There are poems that come to you right away after something happens, others need to sink in and develop.
I went to the Van Gogh museum while in Amsterdam. He's one of my favourite painters and being able to see so much of his work up close (with thousands of other people) was amazing. I knew beforehand I would write something about him or the paintings I saw. I knew while wandering around of at least one moment I would focus on for certain. A week later and I'm still skirting the edges of the poem. And the idea is changing. There might be two poems from the same moment: one the awe of what I saw, the other a more analytical poem delving deeper. I've made some notes, but it's still settling in my mind. Maybe they'll come together, maybe they'll never happen. It's early days.
I do worry that I will lose the raw emotion of the moment if I leave it too long. I've often felt this with going back to substantially rewrite pieces. It's hard to grab that lapsed energy and make the reader feel it months or years afterwards. Hopefully the skills are there to bring it back to the surface in the writing.
Tips for processing and writing about events after the fact: take as many mental and physical notes as you can after an important event. I write regularly in my writing and everyday journals partially for this reason. Make a writing practice out of reliving a moment. Take pictures if you can.
I realised I didn't take note of the name of the painting I want to write about, so I need to find that out, maybe not for the poem but for myself. Do some research, though sometimes it's better not to know too many of the details.
I wrote a poem last year on an emotional response to an event. During the moment and afterwards while I was writing the poem I had all these questions about what happened, the people involved, the history behind it. I forced myself not to go to Google while I was writing. I wanted the emotion, the uncertainty to be real, without facts and explanations to clear things up and I feel the poem is better for not knowing. When I felt it was solid enough, I researched and answered the niggling questions.
Don't be afraid to look to events in the past for your writing, don't worry if you can't find a way to immediately write about an important moment. Allow yourself time to process and play with ideas. If you make writing a habit and occasionally turn your writing focus to that event you might find the poem or story will come when you least expect it.