I like to have two chairs at my desk, one for me and the other for the spirit that joins me at my work. That is how it feels--the work is not just mine, it comes through me; so I must acknowledge this unnamed spiritual help.
When one person, by herself, even in self doubt and confusion, sits down to write, something happens. She listens to herself and this other. A world can rise up out of nothing at all, out of piece of blank paper and a pen, and it can hold such vivid life that it can change everything. Writing can change the writer and it can change the reader.
A writing teacher once suggested a creative visualization in order to create a guide for yourself in your work. I recommend this. Consider who your literary influences are and choose a persona for your own muse. Let your muse help you create the work and present it.
As a child, my life was changed when I read Louisa May Alcott. She gave me Jo March, and ever after, Jo March lives inside. Since then, many other texts have amazed me, shaken me, awakened me, and gotten me through changes. I think of recent ones I've read: Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson, Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe, the Gnostic Book, Thunder, Perfect Mind and many, many poets, W.S. Merwin, Pablo Neruda, Yannis Ritsos, Cesar Vallejo, Rilke, Anne Carson. Generally, it is never all the work of one person, just certain work by certain writers at a certain time in my life, as if a light falls just right sometimes and the illumination is unforgettable. Two very powerful influences on my own work are the poets and activists, Meridel LeSeuer and Audre Lorde. I like to recall and call upon their powerful presence.
Lorde said: "... poetry is not a luxury. It is a vital necessity of our existence. It forms the quality of the light within which we predicate our hopes and dreams toward survival and change, first made into language, then into idea, then into more tangible action. Poetry is the way we help give name to the nameless so it can be thought. The farthest horizons of our hopes and fears are cobbled by our poems, carved from the rock experiences of our daily lives."
Poetry illuminates experience. It's particularly effective at getting me through changes. It is about changes. Poetry gets past the conscious mind (we like the conscious mind but its anxiety and self absorption does not always help) and goes into the subconscious. This is the place of intuition and image and pattern, the place where art finds deep knowing. I aim for it and let it guide me through my writing and my life.