The Hokey-Pokey of Writing


So back in May I talked about the bit in a piece of writing, usually a long piece of nonfiction, which you always end up cutting. It served you as a writer to get from idea A to idea M, but it no longer serves your readers, so it must go. The problem is that it’s not always obvious which bit or how much of it is the bit you need to cut and which bits you need to keep. Sometimes you cut a section, then put it back in, then take it out again, or possibly take another bit out and then put it back in again. After a while you throw your hands up in despair and run away weeping, which is actually a really good idea.

But let’s face it folks, that really is what it’s all about. And if you don’t believe me, check out this video of bagpipers proving it:

Often what you need after finishing a draft, particularly a frustrating draft, is distance. Walk away. Do something else. Eat something. Do your laundry. Read a book. Play with the cat. While you are gone, with luck, the writing will set like Jello, and your choices will be clearer.

33 Years of Poetizing!


Well, it does not seem possible, but I have been writing poetry seriously for 33 years. Such a landmark seems to require a thoughtful contemplation of what I have learned, and also a giddy Snoopy dance of celebration. First the contemplative bit.

Some of my poetry is conversational. Conversations in different languages have their own music. English tends to march along, which is why iambic pentameter is historically such a popular rhythm in our literature. Japanese is more takataka takataka, as they say, at least in the cities. The romance languages are more fluid and flowing. One way to achieve this kind of music is through internal rhyme and slant rhyme. Rather than putting a perfect rhyme (bright light) at the end of lines, you put them in the middle of lines, and not necessarily at the same distance from each other. A slant rhyme (light bide) pulls the reader’s attention without drawing too much attention to itself, a bit like the difference between a cat tapping you on the arm rather than jumping into your lap. You can see examples of this at poetry slams, spoken word events and other performances.

I have learned a lot about why and how revising happens. This post by Ann Michael on gestation says it quite well.

I have learned about dealing with rejection, which for me is having many eggs in many baskets, and only caring deeply about the eggs I am currently laying, rather than the ones I have sent off to become omelets. Many writers struggle with this. There are even whole books about it.

One of the hardest things for some people is abandoning projects that are going nowhere. I remember the utter aghast looks on my college classmates’ faces when a visiting poet said that if the work in his Not Yet drawer still didn’t work after half a dozen passes with weeks or months in between, he chucked it. But honestly, sometimes it make sense to, you should forgive the phrase, Let It Go. Though as one of my colleagues has recently shown, it is not always easy.

Lastly, I have learned that although we all write alone, we are saner and wiser if we also surround ourselves with a community of other writers and artists and people who are trying to make order out of chaos.

And when you have the opportunity, do the Hokey Pokey to bagpipe music.