On Writing.

I am a lot of things, most of which I am pretty vocal about. You all know by now- Momma, book nut, vegan, yogi, runner, nutrition fanatic, occasional city gal, fashion fiend. I am also a blogger, and so obviously I am a writer. Here I sit, typing away. Writing. What most people don’t know is that I’m not just a writer- I also play the game.

I submit material to publications in the hope that I will have written the right thing at the right time. I stuff my words, along with a query letter, into envelopes and send them off to places like The Paris Review and Poetry East and The New Yorker, and wait for an answer. So I don’t just write- I advocate for my work and spend the time trying to get it seen by the right people. I even have the guts to make creative writing my focus for each of my majors, even though I’m not entirely sure it will amount to a damn thing. I suppose that’s what grad school is for- a useful degree.

I thought that since it is actually a pretty big part of my life, I’d give my writing a bit of space here on the blog. I don’t write too much about my process or my work, mostly because I am shy about it. It is SO EMBARRASSING to have people read my writing, or to even present myself as a writer. I value the writing world so much and strive to be a part of it, but with that value comes uncertainty. By labeling myself as a writer, I am counting myself among those that I admire, which makes me worry that I can’t/won’t/don’t measure up to their otherworldly talents, and am therefore a total farce.

Oh, but my troubles don’t end there! Instead of pouring my talents into such noble endeavors as novels and plays, I am compelled instead to write poetry- the most unpredictable force in the writing world. For me, the line between a very good poem and a very bad poem is exceptionally fine. One wrong word and your work can go from having real poetic force to being a limp noodle, mere syllables away from overcooked nonsensical mush. It’s dangerous territory, and I constantly feel as though I am toeing the line between great and ridiculous.

But I am a writer- a writer is what I am. I have been writing ever since I could hold a pencil, and have since kept a steady stream of journals. If I don’t write, I get irritable and overwhelmed- my brain fills up like a shaken soda can, and it’s only a matter of time before I explode. Better to just get it all out.

Every writer has a different process, a different schedule, a different way. Mine is very simple: write whenever I possibly can. It is almost impossible for me to know when I am going to have a free moment to sit down and write. There is always something else needing doing- laundry, homework, dishes, cleaning, emails…for me, making time to write means dealing with a backlog in laundry or giving up on a neat room. No one ever sits me down and says, “Why don’t you take some time to write, and I’ll get some things done while you work?” I have to make the time, even if it means giving up something else. To me, it is worth it.

So no, I don’t have a specific “writing time.” Generally, though, the magic happens at night, after the kids are asleep. I’ll be turning an idea or a phrase or an image over in my mind, and when I finally sit down at my mac, I’ll just type. I get everything that I possibly can onto the page, and then I sit back and read through it a few times. I’ll try to decipher my message, if it isn’t immediately clear. Then I go through, word by word, and tweak each one, buffing each individual line until the entire piece is gleaming under the reader’s gaze. Poetry can be tough because in most poems every single word matters. The shorter the poem, the more truth there is to that statement. Take haikus- with the right words, you can communicate a full spectrum of emotion with those 17 syllables. It just takes the right combination of words.

Here is an example of an idea that I am toying with right now:

“Carnival ride- Round Up- the weightless feeling of spinning away from the Earth, pressing outwards to come back down, thinking about the quiet when you close your eyes. Then the whirring fills your ears, it’s so loud, and suddenly there’s a disconnect, a jerk and wrench of twisting metal and you’re flying. There are a few moments of thought- no recognition for a few seconds, then the descent. Waking up in white nothing.”

Weird and abstract, I know. That’s usually how they start- just an off-beat idea or feeling that might serve as some kind of base line for a poem. Eventually I’ll get in there and get my hands dirty trying to mold it into something intelligible, but for now it’s in a sort-of poetic limbo.

This is something I wrote that is currently being picked over by the ruthless and invaluable literary mafia:

“I ran because,
what else can you do
when ‘home’ is just a word?
and so my feet carried me out
and away
over those memories between myself
and the door
I wanted to breach
the mountains’ crests-
so I pounded pavement
becoming the dry dirt,
caked because it knew I was coming-
I’d run this route so many times before,
sweat-slicked, sheen on my back
and my thighs a relentless flex,
breath coming heavy
because I’m thinking about that night,
which drives me ever forward.
I’m looking for the hills,
turning into them because
I want the challenge
want to push myself further than beyond,
lose myself in the caves of the place
where we all go,
those caverns of onyx abyss-
no spark, no flame.
Hands wrist-deep in the dirt,
pulling the rest of me forward,
my feet curling in my shoes
from the exertion,
the push.
Propelling against gravity’s tow,
almost ditching this aching wasted flesh,
I climb the disconnect
until I’m away from everything.
Down beneath, contracting into a void-
avalanches of mire,
bury it all.
I can’t stop
and I can’t
turn around.”

No title, and it’s a little choppy (okay, a lot). But it’s there, it’s out and on a page ready for review, and to me that is an accomplishment in itself. Although, I just died a little inside knowing that people are reading that mess…but it serves as a good example of my halfway point.

I am very fortunate to have a small group of friends who are also fellow writers. I would go so far as to say that writer-friends are absolutely essential to any writer looking to cultivate that talent. We all swap work, and my friends provide me with the most incredible insight, support, and ruthless criticism so that I am pushed to be better and to improve my work. It can be so difficult to accept criticism for something that you take a lot of pride in, but hearing it from people whose company you enjoy is a lot easier. Being receptive to criticism is one of the best skills I have learned thus far. The world is a critical place- better to iron out a piece before the lions tear it to shreds, because then at least you know you sent them nothing less than your best.

Each piece that I write is seen by my fellow writers and evaluated. We are comfortable enough to tell each other when something just isn’t working, so I know I’m always getting honest responses. We give suggestions and make notes of things that we liked about the piece, and then return it to the author.

After that, it’s back to the drawing board. I spend some time pouring over the comments and suggestions, taking those that I feel benefit my piece and leaving those which don’t (although, I rarely get a suggestion that doesn’t have merit). Then it’s tweak, tweak, tweak until I have something on the page that I feel good about sending out. Sometimes this process can take several days (or weeks), depending on how much time I can scrape up and how inspired I’m feeling. Eventually that mess of words becomes a polished, cohesive piece of writing, and I can file it away to be submitted to whatever magazine I think it is appropriate for.

It’s not an easy process. There are plenty of times when I just don’t feel like writing. I’m not feeling inspired, or poetic, or stationary; maybe I’m tired, or busy, or uninterested. But when I force myself to write regularly, whether or not I am inspired at the time, it gets the gears turning and warms up my pipes, making me far more receptive to possible sources of inspiration. It all comes down to discipline- like anything else, writing requires time, energy, and an investment if it is to flourish and become a benefit to myself and the world. It is not enough to simply have the intention- you must also have the follow-through, or else nothing will come to fruition.

On that note, I’ll leave you with something of mine that I consider to be at a stopping point. It is currently homeless, but will soon be on its way to Poetry East in the hopes that they find it a good fit for their magazine. Wish me (and my poem) luck!

Oak

There’s a bump in the floor
In the center of my bedroom-
A tree that has slowly grown
Up through our house,
Arching the floorboards
Cracking plaster with its boughs,
Its roots boring holes in the foundation.
This tree pushed its way into the living room,
On the floor below,
Starting as a small curve of rug
That we stumbled over-
Until one day it burst through,
Splintering the wood floors,
Green leaves pushing upwards
Desperate for light.
This tree hoisted the coffee table up
Along with the high-backed wing chair-
Now we’re sipping tea in its limbs
As it climbs higher and higher,
Up to my bedroom
To burst through the roof
And eventually its branches will shatter
the glass of the windows,
blow the doors out completely
and we’ll live in the limbs
of our home-sweet-house-tree.

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