“I used to try to write every day, and I would get upset when I failed to keep this goal. And I often failed. I’ve learned that even though writing every day works for some people, it doesn’t work for me. So when I reach an impasse, I go for a walk. I eat ice cream. I call someone I love. I trust myself to come back to the work and try again.”
—José Olivarez, in “Wilder Forms: Our Fourteenth Annual Look at Debut Poets” in the January/February issue of Poets & Writers Magazine (2019)
I have a blog and I publish directly on it, sometimes several pieces a month. I have always wanted my heart to be directly in touch with the reader’s. I have wanted to say, on a day when things look dark, here is a reason this moment is not without beauty, nor is it final. As someone who has suffered from depression, I know how important this kind of signal from another human can be.
When I get stuck, it’s usually because I’ve started fussing with details while neglecting the overall direction or energy of the piece as a whole. When this happens, I spend five or ten minutes writing out new ideas as quickly as I can without pausing. The short time frame and the not pausing are crucial because they give the physical act of writing a chance to outpace my editorial impulses. I find that often just a few minutes of writing like this can generate the seeds of a lot of new material.
Sometimes I only remember a single sentence of a book – but that sentence is a lucky charm or a talisman. I hope I am making a difference with my work. If I can encourage someone, make them think, or see things differently, or take a risk, then that is what books have done for me. Pass it on, I say.
All art has a rhythm, a pulse. Whenever I feel lost, when I seem to keep missing the beat, I find it elsewhere: in movies, music, or books. It always helps to revisit an old favorite, so when I can’t seem to make sense of my own work, I turn to writers whose work I trust….I read their books over and over again, and their words click like a metronome in my head.
No writing is good enough until you, as an author, make a small contribution, the size of a drop, into the ocean of the world’s literature.
‘Write what you are terrified to write.’ When I was first given that advice I struggled to write for almost a year because I wasn’t yet ready to write what I was afraid to write, and I didn’t want to waste my time writing anything else. These days, I consider that advice every time I begin a poem. I pay attention to what requires courage to say, and I do my best to try to say it.
The periodic pleasure
of small happenings
is upon us—
behind the stalls
at the farmer’s market
snow glinting in heaps,
a cardinal its chest
puffed out, bloodshod
above the piles of awnings,
Writing feels a lot like the Magic Eye books—where you have to sort of relax and stare into the middle distance so that a 3-D picture will emerge, popping out towards you out of the abstract one. To see the image hidden in the page, you can’t look directly at it or you lose it. You have to be simultaneously alert, receptive, and relaxed to let it come out at you.