30 June 2010

Writing, and Not Writing, Lots of Questions

It's an interesting time for me as a poet. I wrote so much the past few months, I find myself unable to write anything right now. Not that it's so bad. I believe the poems need time to sit, percolate, and bubble up like sourdough starter. I'm not sitting idle, by any means. I'm revising an earlier batch of poems, round three, so to speak, of revisions. I revise numerous times, then put them away for a while before taking them out to revise again. This makes me happier that assigning a set number to my revisions. Lather, rinse, repeat has worked well for me in the past.

By trial and error I've found I need to revise my poems until I can't stand to look at the poem any more, then I tuck it away. A cold, critical eye is able to handle the process of revision much more adeptly than a warm, fuzzy one. I find the same to be true of my stories. I haven't touched The Fantasy Novel in months, and when I pulled it out to look at it, my eye went unerringly to clunky phrasings and extraneous information.

It's hard, given the present day culture of produce—hurry, hurry, hurry—and produce more, to repeat the careful and concise steps of revision and more importantly, letting a work lie fallow. We want the work out there, garnering praise, or at least a response, justifying our existence as poet and writer. Have you ever let something go out the door that wasn't quite the way you wanted it, but your neediness got in the way of what was right for the work? I have. It's hard to admit I don't always take the care I should with a piece because I want to get it 'out there'.

I've tried to remedy that the past few months by the radical idea of taking my time. My Time. Not someone else's notion of where and when I should be as a writer, but what my instincts tell me are best for me and a particular piece of work. I'm not sure it's a product of growing older, the influence of the impatience of youth on our culture, or the pull of the moon, so it's been hard to resist the lure of shoving my work out there willy-nilly. I know that inside, I'm really more tortoise than hare, but I've let myself get sucked into the notion that quantity was more important than quality. Now is a good time to declare, I move at my own pace, produce in my own good time. Poetry is not a race to be won, but a trip to be savored. Besides, I've never been good at racing - too many birds to look at on the track.

Have you run into this problem of wanting to meet Other People's Expectations? If so, how did you overcome the urge to do what everyone else wanted you to do? Or did you? Just wondering.


Kathleen Cassen Mickelson said...

You raise some excellent points in this post, Constance. I do feel that pressure to get stuff out there. But I'm enough of a slacker that I'm pretty good at slipping out from under that pressure and letting stuff sit there.

That cold, critical eye you wrote about is hard to come by in our own work and only time can allow that kind of focus. The way we are all constantly connected - if we choose to be - does not help the effort to let things simmer for a while. Some days it seems like everyone wants everything RIGHT NOW and it's very tempting to shoot off essays and poems so people don't forget who we are. But if we send out stuff that isn't quite there yet, what gets remembered is the half-assed attempt rather than the fully-formed one. And who needs that?

So I'm all in favor of a writer letting things sit, letting them ripen, allowing for a piece of work to achieve maturity before it goes out the door.

Constance Brewer said...

Kathleen - I've let my stuff sit there far too long, hence the whining. I have many, many thoughts on writing, and some actually make it to the blog, but my energy at times is better directed toward creation for me, not the masses I think.
I'm getting better at the critical eye in my own work, EDP is helpful for that.
Now the question becomes - how ripe is ripe?