Musings + Essays

Catch and Release.

By: Jen Shoop

My girlfriend texted me this letter Kurt Vonnegut sent in response to high school fan mail —

Vonnegut reminds us to create for the sake of creating. Creative work as therapy, as a channel for self-knowledge. I could not agree with these sentiments more. We are born creative. Sometimes we must train ourselves to reclaim our creative confidence — to doodle in the margins. May I recommend a small change to promote creativity, whatever your field or line of work, and however much you distance yourself from the term “creative”? Adopt post-its or pencils. Post-its are inherently light-weight, reconfigurable, impermanent. Their 3×3 size is an invitation to keep things short and slapdash (don’t belabor!), and the adhesive embraces the temporary. Pencils, too — far more forgiving, far more playful, than pen. I was reflecting on this the other day when I thought how lucky I am to have been born in the era of the word processor, with the blinking cursor my prompt and the delete button a permission slip to play and take chances. Would I have been a different writer in the age of the typewriter? When errors and corrections were visible?

Vonnegut’s quote also drew Toni Morrison to mind: “I don’t trust a performance. I could get a response that might make me think it was successful when it wasn’t at all. The difficulty for me in writing—among the difficulties—is to write language that can work quietly on a page for a reader who doesn’t hear anything. Now for that, one has to work very carefully with what is in between the words. What is not said. Which is measure, which is rhythm, and so on. So, it is what you don’t write that frequently gives what you do write its power.” This is not entirely what Vonnegut was after. Morrison offers a more technical extension of his gesture. But the echo speaks to me: the creative act not as performance but as a path to some kind of intrinsic, intransigent truth.


Lately, I have been thinking about writing as “capture and release.” I find myself drawing the world around me into my arms, moving elements around in language, and then thoughts float off into the world like the plumed seeds of a dandelion head, landing delicately here or pollinating something there. That is, I know only about the gathered florets. I know next to nothing about the one-on-one confrontations between what I have written and those who read it. And so I had better write “to practice, no matter how well or badly, not to get money and fame, but to experience becoming, to learn what’s inside me, to make my soul grow.”


+What would you study if you could go back to school tomorrow?

+On pursuing English as a discipline.

+Are you a numbers person?

Shopping Break.

+This dress is bringing major end-of-summer energy to the wedding guest circuit. I love the pattern — Emilia Wickstead-esque! — but the price is far more approachable!

+This feather-trim button-down sold out last year! Perfection!

+OBSESSED with this knit.

+OMG – this large shell-shaped basket is so cute and well-priced!

+This Target dress in the hot pink. Wow!

+Another great tall boot for those asking.

+I own these Agoldes in a different wash but might need them in the black, too.

+Lusting after these Toteme “travel loafers” after seeing them on Bradley.

+Speaking of travel: Frame has a new “jetset” collection designed specifically for travel days (no hardware, pockets, or seams for “elevated comfort”), including tons of different pant silhouettes. I’m drawn to their bestselling crop style.

+Wow – another black tie stunner. Kind of want this as my Christmas dress?

+Loving this belted cardigan.

+Cute cinch-waist sweatshirt.

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4 thoughts on “Catch and Release.

  1. Very timely, as I am embarking on a writing project with a friend for the first time in my life. We are writing a novel together (!), and despite being a professional writer myself, I have not written creatively since I was approximately 7 years old. Thankfully my friend has written several novels, so she is steering the ship and I first mate. It’s exhilarating and slightly terrifying at the same time!

  2. I love this deeply! “To make your soul grow.” Vonnegut speaks to me. This distills my relationship with my creativity to its essence. To do it for the growth of my own soul, regardless of where else it leads. The act of being creative on a daily basis feeds me. Sustains me. Delights me. Period. After putting in the creative work (or relishing in the creative joy?) for decades, my creativity now leads to more, to contracts and readers, agent, publishers, etc. etc., but the more isn’t necessarily the point or the driving force. And I heard something recently that really struck me as I prepare to send my second book baby into the world next year. More or less the advice was not to babysit your creations. Like you say with “capture and release.” Our job as creators is to let the words flow through us. How they are received, what people make of them, what acclaim or not they receive–none of that is our responsibility, or really, our business. It creates so much freedom to just to relish in creativity foremost for its own sake!

    1. I love your perspective on this, and especially the quote “don’t babysit your creations.” Yes! Build and release! Thanks for chiming in here. So glad these sentiments resonated so deeply with you!


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