29 January 2009

Can you (and should you) force it?

Look--Spring has arrived in Akron, Ohio! We don't have three feet of snow. It's all gone, and the daffodils are coming up, and students are wearing flipflops to class again, and AWP 09 is a distant memory (what a blast though) so it's smooth-sailing into the summer.

I'm fooling myself, but I am not doing a very good job of it.

How does this relate to writing? Well, I've been wondering if writing is like running, and that once you're knee-deep into a poem or story, and begging yourself to go wash a coffee cup and leave the poem--you should just try to write your way through the wall.

I'm not very good at writing my way through the wall lately. I have been distracted. I've written a lot, but for each new poem in my Spring 09 word doc I have two or three false starts. At least I've been hanging on to them, but sometimes I wonder if it would be better to power through the pain. It's what we do with winter, right? Just look at the ground and keep walking.

Do you, can you, and should you force yourself to keep writing something when you're losing steam? Or is it best to go dust that dresser that urgently needs attention?


Mella said...

For one of the first times in my writing life, I've been forcing myself to stay and write through walls. Sometimes I'm typing words that I know I'm going to just go back and cut the very next time I sit down at the computer...but still, I'm writing.

And, oddly enough, it seems to be working. Not that I want to jinx myself or anything. But I think it does work - this pushing when you think you've got nothing left to push with.

Keith said...

I always like what one of my teachers said in undergrad: "When you have energy, force the new work. When you're tired, revise."

I do have trouble forcing my way through a poem, though. I need to get back to the draft a week thing, no matter how horrible some may come out, as they can always be ditched later.

Collin Kelley said...

I've had to force myself through a wall on the second novel I'm writing, but I got through it. That's fiction. I cannot force myself through a poem. It's either flowing or it's DOA.

Kees said...

In my case, the writing is blocked because the dresser needs dusting, plus the laundry needs folding, the dishes need washing and the dog needs feeding. Once these things stop nagging at my attention, I can sit and let the words flow.

Lyle Daggett said...

Most of the time I just let the poems come out. Sometimes they come out in a fairly smooth flow, other times I have to grind them out or coax them out a line or two at a time.

If I get stuck, if I come to a place where I'm not sure what comes next, I let the poem sit, as long as it needs, until it starts coming out again.

I'll look at the half-finished poem every day, for at least a minute or two, if nothing's coming out I'll let it st some more. I have a few poems that I've let sit, and gone back to almost daily, for years until I finally finished them.

Now and then I'll figure out that I need to sort of push the poem to make it start writing. I only do this if I can tell that it's near the surface, if I feel that just-below-the-surface irritability that means a poem is nearby. Not forcing it exactly, pushing my concentration on the poem.

Writing a poem, as you may have noticed, can be a lot of work. Sometimes when I finish work on a poem I feel a mix of elation and exhaustion, I feel physically drained.

Bailey said...

I prefer to write to the wall and then on the wall. Too many exquisite turns of phrase can be lost on the push through the wall. My advice: write to the wall, make the wall your own, and then take a nap. When you wake, a door will have appeared where you left off.

Of course, that's easy for me to say. I'm a cat.

S_Allen said...

I have trouble forcing myself to write. I really do. I feel it is time wasted (which is probably the wrong feeling to be having) I have so little time to myself as it is, I usually only write when a deadline is coming up for class.

It's probably the worst way to write - and I'm probably paying for it, but I really find it hard to get the time to sit down and write write write.

Maybe sometime in the future. Cross your fingers for me

John Guzlowski said...

When I was teaching, I found that I had to force myself. There was all that other stuff -- the wall of prepping class and reading papers and wondering how I could my students to write better and get through their walls -- that kept me from writing.

Now that I've stopped teaching, I've found that writing is something I do all the time. 7-8-9 hours a day. There aren't any walls.

It would be interesting to talk to writers who aren't involved in teaching to see what kind of experiences they have with walls.