I still try to work every day that I’m not teaching and feel like I’m cheating when I don’t at least try, or on a dry day default to reading….I’ve always read just enough (of just about anything good) until I find myself thinking, hungrily, ‘I want to do that!’ Then I put the book or the story away and get down to it, energized by envy.
I do find that the shower, with its loud softness, its brain-unclenching heat, and its general vibe of low-key transfiguration, is an excellent place to work through snags in my sentences. It’s physical white noise! …the shower itself is like an ideal reading experience. You go in as one thing, and you come out as something newer and better—plus you smell good, which is not an improvement I’ve ever undergone while reading Dostoevsky.
“Things come out in letters—in the chance to pour out one’s thoughts in an uninterrupted stream—that cannot come out in conversation or through electronic communication. In this way, writing a letter to a friend is similar to writing literary fiction. There’s an intimacy—an opening of the mind—that appears when we sit down and decide that this tool, this pencil or pen, is going to be allowed to unleash our innermost thoughts and feelings.”
—Cristen Hemingway Jaynes, in “A Forgotten Form: The Art of Letter Writing” in the November/December issue of Poets & Writers Magazine (2018)
Write like ‘none of it happened, and all of it is true,’ which, if I’ve got my source correct, is something Ann Patchett’s mother said.
I keep a writing diary, just a line a day with my word count and whether the day has gone well or badly. Mostly it’s badly, but that helps to look back on when I’m writing the next one.
I have a tendency to overwrite, so unsurprisingly I’m in awe of the poet’s relative economy of language, everything they manage to convey in just a few dozen or few hundred words. A good poem always feels inevitable when you read it, as if these exact words had to exist in just this arrangement to help you understand how to live, how to survive, a little better.
If I’m having trouble, I get books of my favorite writers and put them on the desk for inspiration and support.
Way back—oh, not all that long ago, actually, just a couple of years, but back before I’d gotten a glimpse of the gears and levers and pulleys that dredge the future up from the earth’s core to its surface—I was going to a lot of parties.
I write in irregular flares. This isn’t to say that I wait for inspiration to strike: I sift through lines that others have written before me, and use them as lassoes to catch my own. I locate an interesting image, a narrative structure, or even a word (its sound, its meaning, its shape) that does the job. When I’m lost and can’t find the next line or path in a poem-in-progress, the frustration can feel like disenchantment with the whole poem. Sometimes I need to step away and return to poems that reawaken me and offer guidance.