In my senior year of high school I had burned myself out with school activities, sports, a job and dating. One day my mother noticed the dark shadows under my eyes and my lack of enthusiasm. A doctor visit resulted in a diagnosis of mononucleosis. I spent the subsequent two-week a hospital with tentacles of I.V.s, and a complete bed rest order. I learned a hard lesson from this. I tend not to take care of myself.
I remembered that stint in the hospital as I was thinking about budgeting my writing time. After some reflection, I decided to take a hiatus from 30-Day writing challenges for the rest of the year. I don’t have anything against challenges; I simply need more time to write.
To be more precise, I need more time to write less. Yeah, you heard me right; I need more time to write less. I’m a poet, after all.
I know this goes against the grain of many writing gurus. There are bucket loads of advice that push writers to generate more words by doing every possible writing activity. We are told to read more, create more and, of course, generate more media buzz about your work. To write faster we are told to either write madly by a stopwatch or write doggedly until a certain word count is reached. Well, I don’t believe any of this will lead to better poems. Underlying all this faster is better advice is the idea that a writer must do it all or it won’t happen. To me this is the old Faustian bargain. Sell your soul for a chance, just a chance — mind you, of publishing success.
When it comes to taking advice on writing or anything else, I tend to be the proverbial salmon swimming upstream. I tend to buck popular trends. I believe that what is most popular is usually the easy way out. I imagine all these quick little lemmings jumping from that cliff, happily following each other to conform to the cliff jumping trend. I question, therefore I write.
I think most writers agree that good writing requires more than a draft or two. From initial motivation to finished product involves multiple steps and a seeming lifetime of fixing and fretting. I remarked on some exception to this in my previous post here. I also referred to the danger of writing becoming like fast food – tasteless and fat. If you’re one of those writers satisfied with the first draft as the finished product, one of two things has happened; you are unable or unwilling (because you don’t have time) to evaluate good writing or you are a certified writing savant, of which you can count yourself as among the precious few. In either case, read no more.
America poet, Lorine Niedecker ended a by saying, “What would they say if they knew/ I sit for two months/ on six lines of poetry?” (Find the poem here.) The stories of drafts of poems and novels taking decades to “get right” abound. I think the reason for this is not self-defeating obsession or a Calvinistic perfectionism. It has everything to do with the next-to-impossible-task of producing vital and indispensable art. A writer knows that words are difficult animals to tame or seduce into revealing their secrets. We’re not after the obvious, the already-been-told-tale or the cliché. , we’re after the gold beneath the hard-packed overburden of our souls.
Though it isn’t typical of the poems I compose, I have worked on one long poem for more than six years. It’s a good poem but I know it has yet to reveal all that it is capable of becoming. So I keep pecking away at it in the hope that one day it will finish saying what must be said instead of what I think it should say. There is an important distinction here between ideal and revelation. I want the revelation. I want the words to show me the way not the other way around. I don’t care how long it takes. This is why I will take more time to write less.
See you next week.