Includes book reviews and bits from writer's journal. For the professional stuff, see website link below left.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Writer's Journal: My Writing Process

[11/8/10. Don't know where this came from nor what the actual questions were in detail. Haven't kept a record of those things. Suppose I thought I'd remember! I think it may have been in someone else's blog, perhaps as a meme.]


Where do I write? 
To your list of suggested locations, I'd say "all of the above". In other words, anywhere and everywhere. Mostly it's at my desk, often it's in bed first thing in the morning or last thing at night. Sometimes I go out on purpose, to a coffee shop or the beach or just my back yard, for a change of scene. I always have notebook and pen with me, so even when it's not a planned writing expedition, I can jot things down any old where, whether notes or whole poems.

•    Usually a pen that I like the feel of, preferably a roller-ball. But really anything will do – whatever's to hand.
•    Usually a notebook, which can be any size that fits in my handbag. I even have some tiny little ones I can tuck in my wallet if that's all I'm taking. I've pretty much given up calling them journals, because what works for me is to put everything in one notebook – shopping lists, new phone numbers … and bits of writing. Otherwise I have just too many to lug around, especially as I also like to have with me whatever I'm reading.
•    I used to use a typewriter but have embraced computers (hasn't everyone?). In the early days of personal computers I subscribed to the myth that you couldn't compose poetry on a computer. Then I began living with my present husband, Andrew, who had one. I discovered computers are WONDERFUL for writing poetry. Cut and paste is so much easier than the laborious typing and retyping - and wot-the-heck, the universities probably won't want my myriad drafts anyway. Until recently I always composed my first drafts with pen and paper, subscribing to the theory some writers postulate of a mystical connection between heart and hand. But nowadays if I happen to be sitting at my desk I'll compose straight on to a Word document. It doesn't seem to mess up any mystical connections that might be happening.  As with the place, it's really a matter of what's convenient. If a typewriter was all I had, I'd use that; if a paper serviette was all I had … and so on. What matters is to write.
•    I always like to have dictionary and thesaurus handy but I don't cart them around with me when I go out; some decisions can wait. When I'm working on the computer it's even easier to consult online versions than to drag out the actual books from the shelf by my desk. I should probably move the books now, to live beside my bed instead. (I have a desktop computer, not a laptop, so it doesn't move around the  house.) 
•    I don't like transcribing from tape recorders so I don't use them; my husband sometimes does, but that's for writing prose; he's not a poet. My second husband (Bill of the recent poems) always wrote to music, but he was a prose writer too. I think I'd find music distracting. 
•    Snacks? Depends. Not usually. I lose track of hunger and mealtimes. But if there are chocolates or something around, I might nibble as I work – in the sort of furious, impatient way I would once have smoked a cigarette in the same circumstances, as a sort of aid to concentration. Once upon a time I used to say that I wrote with a pen dipped in wine, but I seldom drink alcohol any more at any time. It was a bit tricky anyway – you had to imbibe enough to lift the lid off the subconscious, but not so much that next morning the poetry turned out to be incoherent drivel!

When do I write?
All of the above – though the work and kids options no longer apply. When they did, I trained myself to hold lines and if necessary whole verses in my head until I could get to write them down. I'm a night owl, so a lot of my writing has been "exercised in the still night / When only the moon rages", as Dylan Thomas put it. But "whenever the mood strikes and I'm not involved in something I can't interrupt" is more accurate now.

No set length. However long it takes and/or however long is available.

All of the above.

Mostly I just sit down and start. If I'm blocked I might use prompts; often I'll start playing with form and that does it – usually not traditional forms but "rules" I make up for myself on the spot. When I'm not blocked, I mostly write free verse, though I like to make some sort of pattern of the number of lines per verse.

Writing methods:
I never write outlines nor start in prose. Poems begin for me with a line or two in my mind, complete with their own mood, tone, rhythm, cadence, everything. Sometimes these lines turn out to be at the end of the poem or in the middle rather than the beginning, and sometimes they are the lines that get dropped from the finished piece. If I'm blocked, I'll sometimes use automatic writing or journal entries as a starting point.

Editing and revision:
•    All of the above, depending…. 
•    Some poems are "wholly given" and don't need revising; they are rare.
•    I'm good at grammar and gifted with the ability to spell – but I'm a rotten typist, so there are always errors to correct.
•    Sometimes an obvious improvement occurs to me as I'm writing, so I make the change then and there.
•    More often, I  look through it  afterwards to see what needs tweaking. If at all possible, I try and fix it on the spot.
•    Revision never stops. Come back to a piece after a few years, and ways to make it better will leap out and hit you in the eye. This applies to things that seemed to be working perfectly and also all those others that don't work in the first place. Put them away a while, and when you pull them out it'll be easy to see what they need. Sometimes, what they need is to be tossed in the nearest bin. At other times I "rework … extensively, often changing order, word choice and adding new parts".

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