Onething I love about winter in the Northeast is the snow. Now the snow is going, and it’s officially spring this week.
I love the quiet, the writerlyness of the whole thing. But how does this affect my writing? I wrote a collection of poems about my partner who died of Alzheimer’s. We had spent a lot of time in Mexico, so this landscape came into my poems:
“When I think of Oaxaco
I remember the Zocolo
where they sold pipa del agua
and chocolate dripping from paper cups.”
The setting just naturally came into the poem. Does this happen with you?
The best friend of the writer can be the writer her or himself. As writers, we crave praise, awards, good reviews, and the affirmation of the publisher, but if we remember the joy of the creative process, we don’t need the positive feedback of others.
As a poet, I work often alone and in solitude. Books tend to be published quietly also. There may be a book launch, but aside from that, people buy and read our books on their own. This doesn’t mean that our books don’t touch people or have a lasting effect. A writers, we know the books that have made that special impact on us and we have to trust that our writing will have an effect on our readers.
We entered into the art of writing for deeper reasons that passing attention and it’s best to get in touch with those internal reasons, rather than looking for external affirmations. That way, when the praise comes, it will be a pleasant reminder of our internal worth as writers, and we truly will be our own best friends.
I’ll be blogging on Thursdays and posting announcements on Tuesdays, as they come along.
I recently taught a workshop in poetry writing and I was amazed at how many different people are writing and/or reading poetry these days. I really think of poetry as a way of life, rather than just a genre I use to write.
Mary Oliver said it best, “Poetry isn’t a profession, it’s a way of life. It’s an empty basket you put your life into and make something out of that.” The words of a poet are born from the heart of someone who wants to tell a story of the many layers and textures of the complications, suffering, and joys of life. People also want to read these experiences in poems and see their own stories in them. Poetry creates identity and connects us as a world community.
Poetry identifies, gives names—to feelings, desires, and inner complexities. Poets like Audra Lorde knew the hazards of “misnaming” things. She encouraged women, especially black women, to speak out and “to identify yourself, otherwise someone else will do it for you.”
Walt Whitman lived in a time of turmoil, during the United States’ Civil War and assassination of it’s president, Abraham Lincoln (immortalized in O Captain! My Captain!) Many of his poems encourage people to celebrate their shared humanity and inherent commonalities. “I sing the body electric, The armies of those I love engirth me and I engirth them, They will not let me off till I go with them, And discorrupt them, and charge them full with the charge of the soul.”
I recently wrote and published a book about my partner’s dying of Alzheimer’s Disease. I was not aware of how many people are affected by this dread disease until I began readings from the collection. It was a shared humanity that people were responding to. Take a look at the collection here:
Whether writing pen to paper or sending a text or email, writing and reading is different today.
We can listen to a podcast, watch the news on television or our computer, or still read a book or newspaper. But what of the skill of writing? Employers complain that resumes are filled with typos and a well-written resume still draws a better job application response. The written word can be a powerful tool for a business leader affecting employees. Studies show that people disregard messages when they have glaring typos and mistakes.
And what about the power of a hand-written message. When was the last time you got one? Did you read it? Did it affect you? How about a letter sent by snail mail, rather than email or text?
A personalized message has a way of making the person receiving it feel valued and recognized.
It wasn’t sent to the masses, but written especially for the receiver.
Writing has a way of developing relationships between people. I know at holiday times when I get hand-written cards, I always respond positively to them and pay attention, be they a simple,
“Best wishes for the New Year” or a whole report on the last year.
And what of the creative writer? Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way suggest starting the day by handwriting with pen to paper. This is supposed to access the creative side and also gives the artist the freedom to write without rereading or censoring. Many writers use pen and paper as a different way into their writing that their computer keyboard just doesn’t do.
When I wrote my most recent collection of poetry, Touch My Head Softly, I tried all different ways of writing: pen and paper, keyboard, dictating into a recorder, an old typewriter.
There is beauty in imperfection. In this pre-Colombian figure, the right arm is missing, but it’s still beautiful. Michelangelo would often leave a small bit of sculpture unfinished, like on his David he did not polish the very top of the head. This is the aftermath of a crippling self-doubt. He knew as an artist he could never be perfect. Kafka told his friend to burn his manuscripts.
So why do we have a feeling of inadequacy from time to time about out own work? Nothing is perfect in the world. Why should our writing be? Leonardo DaVinci said art is never finished, only abandoned.
As writers, we have to transform a blank page or screen into something other people will want to read. This is not always easy. No wonder sometimes we fail. Failure is inevitable.
This is an imperfect world and we need to let go of the idea of perfection. We can aspire to good writing, but it will never be perfect. Some people will like our writing. Some people won’t. Regardless, we should keep writing as best we can.
I will keep blogging on Thursdays and if I have announcements, they will be on Tuesdays.
Writer’s block, or when an author is unable to produce new work, happens to all writers.
Try writing something of special interest to you. Write down all the primary ideas you’d like to write and then write the smaller ideas that make up the big ideas. Then write an outline of these ideas.
Now you have an outline that is a starting point. Research your topic. Then write down your own thoughts on the research. Identify gaps in the research you find. Now you’re ready to write.
When I wrote my last collection of poems, I had many blocks. Some are emotional, such as my partner’s Alzheimer’s that I wrote about in Touch My Head Softly. Or just time barriers, so that when you finally have a chance to write, there’s a lot of pressure to sit down and produce.
But I got through it and published my latest collection earlier this year:
Since the pandemic, I have been much more inclined to interact with strangers. The isolation taught me the power of human interaction. Some of the most interesting interactions have been chance, at the supermarket check out or the farmer’s market. I write at coffee shops and I’ve used some of the dialog I’ve overheard in my writing.
It’s good to interact, connect and appreciate each other. It makes for better writing, remember Robert Frost’s “Mending Wall,” about the wall between his property and his neighbors. This will make for a better world generally. If you use dialog in your writing, it makes your writing more authentic. It’s also good to meet periodically with writer friends to compare notes and get advice on what you’re submitting, etc. I’m in several writer’s groups.
I published a collection of poems about my partner who died of Alzheimer’s, and it’s led to many interesting discussions with people I didn’t know who were affected or had loved ones affected by this disease. Check it out:
They say a journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step. I often think of the writing process when I hear that old adage. Writing can seem laborious when we proofread, edit, revise. These are the mundane parts of the process. The joy, for me, is in the creation, but that’s only one stage of the writing process.
So try to enjoy the journey, and not just the final, published product. Writing groups can help as you can share your writing with others and self-edit along the way. Writing is an isolating activity and a writing group can help with the isolation. You can also get helpful hints from fellow writers.
Readings can help also. Reading a work in progress can help to get feedback and it also helps to hear your work aloud. Samuel Butler says “I feel weak places at once when I read aloud where I thought, as long as I read to myself only, that the passage was alright…” The act of reading, line for line, can help the writer focus in a way that just rereading again can’t.
I used many of these “journey steps” to complete my collection of poetry that published earlier this year. Check it out:
Now I am in Costa Rica for a good part of the winter.
The landscape is very different from the Northeast where I live for the balance of the year.
I love the pre-Columbian art here. I’ve shown you an example of one piece. These vessels, figures, tools are dated before the Spanish conquest of Central and South America. These art pieces date back to then Mesoamerican period, around 10,000 BCE. They give clues to the lives of the indigenous.
For me the beauty of the landscape and the local art inspire me. I may not be writing about beauty, or even Costa Rica, but the art gives me insight into the lives of the people, just as my stories aspire to give insight.
I recently published a book of poems about my partner who died of Alzheimer’s Disease. I hope this gives insight to others in contact with people with this disease. Also part of the proceeds of the sale of the book will go to the Alzheimer’s Association to help find a cure for this dread disease. Check out my book: