Monday, May 24, 2010

Writing Methods

Why is it so hard to write poems? I love reading about how poets come to write their poems, their thought-processes, what triggers them etc. I think I think too much about the process, I'm too self-conscious, too aware when I start writing. I've got this mad idea in my head that I want every poem I write to count, to be really meaningful to me, to tell me something. And because of this I struggle to write a poem just for the fun of it. It's counter-productive, this self-imposed pressure is immensely inconducive to writing. So I gather my images, page after page of groups of scenes that I try to find meaningful homes for. The images are the easy part, a walk by the river or in the gardens and the images come but not just nature description, images with real emotional weight. But finding the right narrative home, the story that these images come from is the real struggle. I'd love to know how everyone else writes, some people don't like to talk about their processes but the analytical part of me is greedy for detail about such things.

10 comments:

Michelle said...

Marion, have you read Brenda Ueland's If You Want to Write? It's a wonderful read.

Two favourite quotes from her volume are:

"Work with all your intelligence and love. Work freely and rollickingly as though talking to a friend who loves you. Mentally (at least three or four times a day) thumb your nose at the know-it-alls, jeerers, critics, doubters."

"I learned that when writing you should not feel like Lord Byron on a mountaintop, but like a child stringing beads in kindergarten - happy, absorbed and quietly putting one bead on after another."

I love the image of a child stringing beads, of giving oneself permission to have fun.

Marion said...

thanks for the recommendation, michelle. that's a wonderful image! I googled Ueland and so pleased to see this quote from her:
“So you see, imagination needs moodling - long, inefficient, happy idling, dawdling and puttering.”

permission to have fun is exactly it and not to feel bad about being such a dawdler!! that book is going straight into my amazon basket.

Elizabeth Rimmer said...

yes, that's me exactly - I'm learning from other artists and other art forms just now, to feel free to assemble a stash, to put things together in lots of different ways, to scrap, re-arrange, experiment until the story shows itself. The strength, I think of the way I write, is that when I do get a line on it, the poem has a decent skeleton, a shape and structure that you can be confident with.Till then, it's just patience--

deemikay said...

I write in lots of different ways:

some things just appear from nowhere and it's a surprise when I see the page has filled up - I often feel numb after writing one of these;

others are "made" - I decide to make a poem in a certain form or for a certain event - these *are* fun to write - I love the challenge - I can churn out a sonnet or a limerick;

others are hunted - I know there's some poem out there and I just have to grab at it and wrestle it to the page, these are the frustrating ones that I feel a literal physical with - they're generally somewhere above my left shoulder;

others are bits of music and the same thing I feel when I'm improvising on an instrument happens here - these float onto the page via my mouth and ear;

and then there's the eavesdropping - slightly related to the first kind above, but more that I'm listening to something else happening some distance away.

But that's just weird me. :)

sunnydunny said...

I usually get a line in my head and just follow it. My poems are usually written in 10 minutes or so (MacCaig's "one-fag-poem", but the non-smoking version). And on the Japanese principle 'first thought, best thought' (actually I made that up, but it's what I do). I will tweak it slightly at the point where it goes on the computer, but I try never to over-edit. The energy of creation drains out of the poor thing.

Marion said...

elizabeth, it's so good to hear that someone else works this way too!!

thanks david, that's variety for sure! I like your descriptions :)

colin, I'd never have thought you would write that way for some reason. so you write yours out first then type it up?

sunnydunny said...

Fountain pen first, so I get the flow of the words from the physical act of writing. After that the typing process is purely mechanical, but the brain is freed up for working.

Titus said...

Ooh, what a thought-provoking question. I'm going to have a stab, even though I consider myself a prose writer first and foremost, with poetry really only on the starting-blocks for me at the moment.
I think I'm a mixture of some of the above.
Like Colin, sometimes it's a line - usually a first or a last. Then I have to build the poem to merit the line.

Next, because I'm a story-teller much more than a poet, narrative ones come very easily to me, and are probably my most "natural" form.

When I'm really tired, I like a kick up the backside, which is why I enjoy the Poetry Bus so much. I quite often use a strict form on Bus rides, a bit like Deemi someimes, because it gives me a start point and a constraint to work within. I enjoy that, and find it satisfying.

I find your working method fascinating, because I don't think in terms of images at all (some poet!). What I love (and I mean, really love) is the English language and the way words play, shift meaning depending on where they're placed, and sound echo each other etc. etc. And I think very cerebrally (tautology?), not emotionally or responsively. It's making words do two or three things at once I really love, and I also like a bit of history or myth or philosphy or religion stuck in there too. I think that's just the way I think - in the past!

Like Colin, I have to draft in pen on paper, and then transfer to computer. But I edit, edit and better edit until I just get tired of looking at the thing. And to edit, I have to print it off and work on it in pen. Usually late at night in the bath.

I could never gather swatches and images around me for later use - everything's one hit for me. Words are what lead me to words.

Finally, and most bizarrely, I think my best and tightest poems are written when I'm furious. That's when I produce the most stripped-back, tight, precise stuff. So a spell of even-temper is no good for me at all...

Loved reading about your approach, and everyone elses'. Good post!

Jim Murdoch said...

Nothing worthwhile is easy. Despite all the other things I have written I am a poet before anything else and I hold a special place in my heart for my poetry. I think of it as ‘pure’ writing and by that I mean that it requires the least work. I am like Colin in that respect, it rarely takes me longer than ten minutes to write a poem, often less. That doesn’t mean I won’t potter with it for a while but rarely do I make any major changes. What is hard is waiting. A lot of people online don’t. They respond to writing prompts and don’t worry if what they produce isn’t that good. They enjoy their poetry. I tend to shy away from that. I’ve always felt that I should only write things that are worth writing. So I think about poetry a lot but actually write very little. You and I are alike in that respect. I expect every poem I write to count and as I’ve aged I find I’m no longer satisfied with an okay poem. I have written hundreds of okay poems. I can wait for the good poems and hope for the great poems.

How I actually write is harder to explain. Think of me as a tuning fork just waiting for the right sound to come along and when it does I resonate. Only it’s never the same sound twice. It’s like physical attraction. When I look at the women I’ve been attracted to throughout my life there are no common factors and yet something in each of them them touched me. Well, poetically speaking, I’m constantly on the lookout for that something. I’m not big on images like you and so more often than not it’s a phrase or sometimes just a word, often one I’ve heard many times before, but it’s like your best friend’s kid sister, one day you look at her and you wonder how you missed the transformation.

I said that nothing worthwhile is easy and yet I’ve presented a picture of a natural poet. I’m not especially well read or experienced but I have learned to trust my gut when it comes to poetry. It’s hard to resist the urge to go down a different path. Perhaps that’s why I ended up writing prose, I needed something to do when I wasn’t writing poetry. Prose, at least for me, stands up to constant reworking. The amount of time I’ve spent going over and over my prose is frightening. I used to be like that with my poetry. I’d sit on them for weeks adding in the proverbial comma and talking it back out. It took me a long time to trust what I first committed to paper.

I can write anywhere. Most of the time these days I work straight onto my laptop because it’s here but if I’m sitting watching TV I’ll just grab a notepad and scribble down my idea.

Marion said...

thankyou titus and jim for so much detail! great analysis' of both your methods. I'm struck by how many people compose longhand then type up. I always compose on screen, I find it difficult to think precisely when writing longhand.