On craft

Grid of intent

by Sarah Bates

Around the time I was working on “That Winter”, I was reading Mary Ruefle’s Collected Lectures, “Madness, Rack, and Honey.” I was teaching it in my Intro to Creative Writing class and wanted to challenge my students to experiment with Ruefle’s thoughts on beginnings.

She says, “if you have an idea, a grid of intent, you are on the wrong path.” I had them write two pieces, one where they chose an image to focus on, an image that would take them to different times in their life, various memories, and one where they simply started writing. I chose to write about trees, and for the second, I walked down to McCarty’s Cove and started collecting rocks. By the time my hands were full, I had an essay about trees and a poem searching for God on the shores of Lake Superior. When I finally looked up, I noticed a jack pine that had been there all along.


“That Winter” appeared in ROOTED: The Best New Arboreal Nonfictdion. Sarah Bates is a creative writing MFA candidate at Northern Michigan University. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in American Literary Review, BOAAT, So to Speak, Washington Square Review, The Normal School, First  Class Lit, and Pacifica, among others. She currently lives in Marquette, Michigan with her goldendoodle, River.