12:03 pm, Monday, 29 November, 2010 – Atlanta
And, it is now 1:45. I keep following trails through the web. Dangerous business that. Okay, a rough and ready set of rules, or mantras, depending on what you need:
Read. Seems obvious, but do you read other poets? It’s important to read, and I do–mysteries. The poetry I used to read was the poetry I taught. I loved it but Frost was about as contemporary as I got. Okay, Sharon Olds, Randall Jarrell, Merwin, Atwood and a few others, but nowhere near the amount I should have been reading. Now that I am focusing on my writing I am reading a lot more. It’s important for a number of reasons. Reading contemporary poetry shows me where the focus is shifting in both topic and style. Reading the poetry in ezines and hard copy journals lets me know who publishes what. I am exposed to forms I haven’t tried and encouraged to go ahead and try. Buy the poets you enjoy. Poets need all the support they can get and you can dip, as few people sit and read through a book of poems.
Carry pen and paper everywhere. If it’s night and you are going to bed, keep a pen and notebook next to the bed. You can have a small flashlight, but I learned to write in the dark…quite neatly, too. I have said this before, but because I keep not doing it myself, I will keep saying: You will never remember the exact phrase again. All you will be left with is the memory that you thought of something that sounded brilliant. I did it just last night. I am hoping a brain cell will kick whatever it was back up again. Sometimes you’ll come up with something new that you might not have come up with, but I’m not sure that makes up for losing the first fresh thought. Keep a drawer or box where you can toss loose paper, napkins, receipts…whatever you used to write the idea, line, or image on. There are small notebooks that will fit into pockets.
Remember that the first draft is not writing (save the rare writer who can get it in one). The first draft is getting things from your brain onto the paper. Do not while you are getting things down, block the free flow of thought with self-censoring. Don’t write with a mental eraser. Noone is going to see your drafts (unless you become famous – I love “Anthem for Doomed Youth” by Wilfred Owen. Then I saw a first draft – it was pretty dreadful. I have never forgotten that every writer goes through the process.). Write freely, then let your censor go to town when you go through the process of revision, about which I will talk more later.
I am not going to throw a huge amount at you in one go. Next Monday, a few more mantras. Tomorrow an exercise in sound, both as imagery and inspiration.