'Peter Rabbit' and writer's block

'Peter Rabbit' and writer's block
The china figure of Peter Rabbit in my own collection, along with some the many neighbors he's gained over the years. Photograph by Margaret H. Laing

In the front pocket of the three-ring notebook where I keep drafts for this blog is a page from an old scrapbook.

The page has a magazine clipping on it that takes up only a few square inches. It is familiar even though I haven’t seen the real page it portrays since 1976, when my family went to London and visited the British Museum.

In the British Library, which was part of the museum at the time, many famous documents were on view. The Magna Carta impressed my parents most at the time, but I was young enough that it took a detailed history course to give me a framework to understand that memory.

It was the document portrayed in my scrapbook, apparently more humble, that was more impressive to me and my budding thoughts about writing. That document is a letter from Beatrix Potter — a letter that’s also the original draft of “The Tale of Peter Rabbit.”

The letter was written in 1893 to Noel Moore, the ailing son of a a friend. It begins:

“My dear Noel,

“I don’t know what to write to you, so I shall tell you a story about four little rabbits whose names were Flopsy, Mopsy, Cottontail, and Peter.”

I love the story, of course, but it’s the idea of the letter that appeals to me even more. That’s being Serious about writing — owing someone a letter (or, these days, a post or e-mail) and deciding to make it a story.

Honestly, I’ve used Peter — and Beatrix’s letter — as inspiration long before this.  I don’t know what to write, but I write anyway. Sometimes it’s something creative,  like the Imaginary Writers’ Room and its committee meetings. But other times, it’s a little explanation of a word or expression. I just look over at the figure of Peter in my curio cabinet (as pictured here) for a reminder if I don’t have the notebook nearby. (There’s a picture of the Stanley Cup on the cover of that notebook, so it never gets too far away.)

Then there are the pieces you haven’t read yet — the drafts still in my notebook.

Peter Rabbit will have to keep an eye on those a bit longer.

Margaret Serious has a page on Facebook.

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  • Lovely post! Thanks for sharing these inspiring words.

  • Thank you very much. I saved it for when I couldn't think of something else to write -- then I knew I wasn't alone.

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