Saturday, October 13, 2007

Questions About Success

Joannie asked some good questions on her blog about writing and how to keep going when you are going through a dryspell or feeling a little down...

Here are my responses to her questions...

How do you find encouragement or validation?

***I return to the friends who are writers and know my previous successes and get a pep talk or even just to talk to them. Get out of my cave and realize that success goes up and down. Some days you're the prized pony, other days you're just pulling the cart.

When my friends aren't around or I don't feel like assigning anyone the role of "friend," I remind myself that I'd be doing this despite publication or awards. I honestly believe there is nothing more important than participating in the creative arts, no matter what they are (did you read Li-Young Lee's interview I posted, he said something similar, though a little more poetic).

If I'm going through a rejection phase or a lot of nothingness (which I am), I just tell myself that it's not my time right now and to keep trying. I just found out I didn't get an Artist Trust Fellowship. I was bummed. But talking with one of the winners I realized that it was her time for this success and not mine. I felt better after seeing how she will benefit more from the fellowship than I would.

How do you measure "success" (on your own, in your writing community)?

***I try not too. If I even find myself comparing myself to anyone, I pull back immediately. I think comparisons are one of the best inspiration killers. I have always measured success in my feeling of happiness, contentment, and fulfillment. Poetry helps fill those categories.

If I thought "Prize X" = success than I would lose track of what I'm doing. I'd be expecting others to validate me as opposed to validating myself by writing. I guess I've begun to care less and less about what others think and external success. My new mantra is "It's not my business what others think of me." Just as I can't let myself be down when I'm not receiving acceptances, awards, publication, I cannot allow them to create my happiness either. Both are subjective. Both require other people to validate me and call me "good." In the end, they are usually one person's opinion.

How do you keep in the top of your mind the real why you write poetry?

***the real *reason?* I write poetry.
For me it returns to that Berryman poem by WS Merwin. I don't know what any of this means, why I do it, or how it will turn out. But I feel I need to do it. I just try to stay focused on the poem and let the other thoughts slip past me.

How do you keep on keepin' on?

***Good question! I think a little faith help and a little desperation. Also, not having many other skills keeps me writing too. ;-)

I just remind myself-- if I had all the money in the world, how would I spend your time?

My answer is always writing (and traveling) so I know I'm doing what I love to do, so I keep doing it.

* * * *

I've posted this here before, but here it is again--


I will tell you what he told me
in the years just after the war
as we then called
the second world war

don't lose your arrogance yet he said
you can do that when you're older
lose it too soon and you may
merely replace it with vanity

just one time he suggested
changing the usual order
of the same words in a line of verse
why point out a thing twice

he suggested I pray to the Muse
get down on my knees and pray
right there in the corner and he
said he meant it literally

it was in the days before the beard
and the drink but he was deep
in tides of his own through which he sailed
chin sideways and head tilted like a tacking sloop

he was far older than the dates allowed for
much older than I was he was in his thirties
he snapped down his nose with an accent
I think he had affected in England

as for publishing he advised me
to paper my wall with rejection slips
his lips and the bones of his long fingers trembled
with the vehemence of his views about poetry

he said the great presence
that permitted everything and transmuted it
in poetry was passion
passion was genius and he praised movement and invention

I had hardly begun to read
I asked how can you ever be sure
that what you write is really
any good at all and he said you can't

you can't you can never be sure
you die without knowing
whether anything you wrote was any good
if you have to be sure don't write

WS Merwin

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