I’ve been tagged for the blog tour on writing process by one of my favorite poet friends: Poet Mom January O’Neil. I’m lucky enough to know January in real life (here we are pictured, a little blurry, at a reading earlier this year with the always inspired – and inspiring – Jillypoet). January is one of the harmdest working writers I know, so how could I say no? Besides, it’s perfect timing as I have been formulating lots of blog posts in my head instead of writing them; this seems like a good time to get back to it.
Here’s January’s post on her writing process, and here comes mine:
1. What are you working on?
I am working on revising poems and writing new ones for a manuscript that will wrap up my MFA studies at Ashland University. I have the fall semester “off,” though I’m going to use it to make sure I’m thoroughly ready for the spring semester, which is my final and thesis semester.
At my residency this summer, I printed out all the poems I’ve written since starting the program. I struggled initially to see what held them together, but I think I’ve landed on something that works. And so in front of me — between now and next summer when I defend my thesis — is the task of selecting, writing, overhauling, polishing, ordering, reordering and reordering again.
2. How does your work differ from others in the same genre?
I don’t know how to answer that. It bothered me at first that I don’t know. However, I think ultimately what separates poets from one another is that each has her own combination of voice, subject, language, images, musicality and line. We borrow and imitate in varying degrees while refining with our own sensibilities as we go. It’s fluid… and hard to pin down.
3. Why do you write what you do?
Many of my poems are rooted in relationships (often the romantic relationship, but not always) and in place because they have so much energy for me. With those roots and the randomness of prompts (sometimes actual writing prompts, other times an image or phrase that catches me), I launch into a free write. At that point, I don’t know why I write what I write. I follow the images and the language. I go where they go. I allow myself to be surprised. In revision, as hard as it is, I try then to get the poem to go where I’d like it to go, but I rely heavily on the gifts the first draft has given me. I think about them that way, as gifts.
In January’s response, she mentioned taking risks, and I like to think that I push myself to do the same, though I talk about it as “being unafraid.” It can be hard to tell your truth because it’s just “a” truth, one version, and an artful version at that. It can be true to your experience of the world while in opposition to the experiences of others. That tension is real and problematic.
I try to write as one who is unafraid. And even as I revise, I try to resist the urge to go to a safer, less exposing place and instead push harder, go deeper. A poet is best served by worrying less about how a poem makes her look (and the others present in a poem look) and more about what the poem accomplishes for its own sake. What does the poem need to be a piece of art on its own, absent the poet’s ego, absent the ego of others? That’s quite an exercise, right? It is likely impossible in its purest form, but think of the attempt. And we might as well. I think a reader recognizes it when a poet is holding back.
4. How does your writing process work?
In my fantasy, I have a regularly scheduled and daily appointment with the page. But alas! It’s just a fantasy. I write in fits and spurts — primarily in poem-a-day challenges. Write a poem a day for 30 days. Write a poem a day for a week. Sit down with a poet friend and write to 5 prompts in an afternoon. In between, I write when I have a deadline or an assignment. I worry that it makes me unreliable and irresponsible, given my own habits. But I respond well to accountability. And my muse is best under pressure because then she is stronger than my monkey mind that says I have other things to do and nothing important or interesting to say.
Next up I’m going to ask Jillypoet to write for us. I will let you know what she says!