22 October 2008

Self-improvement (of the writerly kind).

When I finished grad school, I wondered if I would ever write again. After all, wasn't I primarily motivated by the comments from peers, and the pressure of the professor's expectations? The looming thesis/dissertation? How else could I produce poetry?

For years I felt almost as if my poems (and stories, for that matter) were mainly a reaction. Sometimes it was to appease readers who didn't understand what the hell I was saying. Sometimes it was to annoy readers who didn't understand what the hell I was saying. But there was always the sense of responding to a request, which appealed to my inner people-pleaser. You want me to connect this handful of electrical wires to the controlling metaphor? Yeah? Well, how's this for a connection? Ha!

Outside of the workshop setting, it's harder to write according to feedback. Sometimes feedback from friends or peers isn't useful, even if it's well intentioned. So at some point we have to start kicking our own asses. Setting goals. Making checklists. Revising our own poems. Giving ourselves assignments. Thinking about what we could do better.

For a long time I've wanted to write a poem that completely changes course (on purpose) in the middle. I did that on Sunday. I'm not sure it's "done," but I did it.

Other things on my checklist:

Write a long poem. If I ever get the time, I would like to do a word count on individual poems and set myself a goal. I'd like to read some of the long poems suggested here.

Sometimes I write poems that are not imitations, but rather homages. I'd like to write an homage to a poem that I don't like, or that just isn't my cup of tea, but that I nonetheless respect.

I want to start thinking about art again. I don't want to write a thousand ekphrastics. But I want to go to a museum, like I used to do all of the time, before I had kids and a job, and let a painting take me somewhere I couldn't go otherwise.

What's on your to-do list? How do you kick your own ass, and set your own goals? Do you ever let yourself down? What do you need to work on?

10 comments:

Keith said...

I don't really have any "goals" except trying to write a decent draft, whether it's a sonnet, something out of the blue, an ekphrastic. Anything that pleases me, even if by the end it turns out to be awful. Then I can ditch it and move on.

I have friends that are working on long poems, but I don't feel like can sustain one yet. I do, however, need to be kicking my own ass more, as I'm satisfied I suppose with my output from the last year, but I want to make 2009 a "draft a week" year with no exceptions, and if two happen to show up, then that's great.

Penultimatina said...

Keith, I like that "draft a week" in 2009 idea. That way, if I didn't comply, I could cheat by drinking a pint of draft beer instead...

Keith said...

See, that's exactly why we all need the kick in the ass.

Steven D. Schroeder said...

I have lists poem types I'm not doing enough of or that I haven't tried at all but want to. That way, when I get into too much of a poetry rut (poetrut?), I can check the list and force myself to think and write in a somewhat new way. I should probably start consulting the list again soon.

Love the idea of a poem that deliberately changes course midstream, by the way.

Penultimatina said...

Steve, I like that list idea.

And I challenge you to write the poem that changes midstream! :)

JB said...

I try to revise one to two poems a week (Keith's "draft a week"). I'm also trying to read more poetry so that I keep feeding the poetry machine as much as I'm draining it.

Calder said...

I love this post, spot on here. This poetry thing should be fun and having unique goals is one way to keep it fresh. Enjoyed reading your blog today and I will be back for more. Have a good weekend...TGIF!!

Smiles!

Oliver de la Paz said...

My current checklist/goals:

1. Revise many of the poems I wrote this summer during my month of writing.

2. Put together a Table of Contents for new manuscript in prograss.

3. Write a crown of sonnets . . . just because.

4. Devote at least one day a week to revising older poems and drafting newer poems. This hasn't been possible lately with my teaching, advising, parenting, and spousal duties.

5. Quit making excuses for myself. :D

Lyle Daggett said...

I don't have a checklist as such, but I'm always working on several (potential) poetry book manuscripts in progress.

I don't work in drafts (in the sense people usually refer to them, multiple or successive versions of a poem in the works), I work line by line, crossing out and rewriting as I go. If I get stuck part way through a poem, I let it sit half-done in the notebook for as long as it takes (hours, days, weeks, months, years), till I find whatever comes next.

So, my main discipline with writing is to sit with my poem notebooks open in front of me for at least a little while every day, either open to a blank page or, frequently, to a poem in progress. Sometimes while the notebook sits open I'll find something to write (the start of a new poem, or the next lines in one that's in progress).

Sometimes nothing wants to come out, but having the notebook open in front of me tends to act at least as a subtle kind of geological pressure, pushing a poem or piece of a poem into coherent shape as I'm thinking about it (either in the forefront of my thinking or more in the "background").

Sometimes, if a poem has been stuck for some time, or if I've been stuck (haven't written anything at all for a little bit), I'll need to force myself to concentrate hard on a poem, more or less the mental equivalent of squeezing hard, till I can find the next line or two.

I've found over the years that I'll periodically have dry spells with writing, it goes in irregular cycles, sometimes I'll just need to let it lie dormant for a little bit (a few days or two or three weeks), sort of like letting a seed germinate in the ground. If I start feeling a kind of vague irritability or restlessness for no apparent reason, often that means a poem is starting to shape and getting near the surface.

Learning to wait out the dry periods, to understand that the poems aren't gone, they really will come back, has been -- looking back on it -- an extremely important thing for me to come to understand.

As far as stuff I need to work on, I'm in the final stretches (I'm pretty sure) of a long connected sequence of poems, a loose narrative sequence, that grew out of traveling with a friend for a few days many years ago. I'd like to finish it eventually. That's probably the main thing.

Nyrerun said...

A draft a week gives me enough time to get done what I consider a good amount of work. When I first started writing I was stuck a lot.I found that extensive research with the proper tools kept me going in the right direction.
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