Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Three Writing Tips

Michael tagged me for three writing tips. Here are my three (long) writing tips.

1) Get comfortable with the term writer or poet. Before you can expect others to believe in you, you need to believe in yourself. Sometimes when we start off writing, it's hard to call ourselves "writers" ("poet" may be even harder). But try to get comfortable with it. In the beginning it's a big awkward cape we're toting around with us. As you wear it though, it becomes less of something you put on and more of something that you are. The cape becomes a handkerchief, a small piece of fabric you keep in your pocket, the shadow of yourself on the floor of the bookstore, the skin you own. The more you see yourself as a writer/poet, the more you will expect of yourself. The more you expect of yourself, the more you will write. By naming it, you become it. If you don't take your writing seriously, no one else will.

2) Think small & long term. Just like an IRA, what you write today is *not* going pay off tomorrow. Writing is like saving, you continue to add to the bank, then one day a check arrives in the mail. What you write and submit today will benefit you 6 months from now. Your acceptances are made up of your history. Think of your "Future Self" and how much s/he will appreciate the work you put in today, even if it was just for 15 minutes.

Writing is *not* about sitting down and writing the novel. It is not about sitting down and banging out five more poems. Writing is one step, one word at a time. It's easy to get overwhelmed if you look at the big picture. A collection is written, a poem at a time. A novel is written a page at a time, a sentence at a time. One words moving to another.

Write a little bit each day or find a stretch of time when you write undisturbed and devote yourself to that time.

If I wrote for a half-hour before bed every night, that is 3 1/2 hours of extra writing a week. If I could write for an hour, 7 hours of writing a week. Just let yourself write and stop censoring yourself or thinking "it's not good enough." Of course it's not, it's a first draft, that's what revision is for (if you've ever read Elizabeth Bishop's work before revision, you'd be gleefully horrified, it was pretty awful, but the final poem-- wow!) If you take it day by day, poem by poem, you'll get it done. Remember What About Bob: Baby steps get on the elevator... Baby steps get on the elevator... Ah, I'm on the elevator.

3) Do not allow yourself the luxury of excuses. This is the tough love part of the show. This is the part where I say this to you because I want you to achieve your dreams. There is *always* an excuse not to write. Every poet and writer can create a thousand reasons they aren't writing. There are a thousand reasons not to go back to school and get your MFA. There are a thousand reasons not to finish your book, your poem, your essay. There are a thousand reasons not to carve a space in the day for you to write. We all have busy lives with or without kids, with or without jobs, with or without sadness, with or without X. Writing is choice. If you want to write, you'll find the time. No excuses. And remember, you're loved.


  1. # 3 is really important. It's easy to get bogged down in non-central things. Have to keep moving forward in improving the writing and getting it moving out there. It's the other writing callous.

  2. "Writing is like saving, you continue to add to the bank, then one day a check arrives in the mail."

    LOL @ the Capricorn


    (I have Cap Rising & heavy duty 10th house.)

    I stayed at that Hilton a couple times, for work when we did conferences there & I had to run the network stuff. I hated that place haha. I'm not Resorty.

  3. Why would you imply that not getting an MFA is a form of laziness? An MFA does not make someone a writer. And not all writers want to teach. In fact, most MFA programs are a way for colleges to fund other programs. Just sayin'...

  4. Hi Suzanne,

    Thanks for your note I'm glad you mentioned that as I can see how what I wrote can be taken that way, but that's not what I meant (I hadn't even thought of laziness honestly.)

    My concern is with writers/poets who *want* to go back to school and get an MFA, but don't because of age, cost, or because of their family, spouse, or children etc.

    Recently on Wompo there was a discussion about women wanting to get their MFA through a low-res program and I was surprised at some of the comments about the residencies being "My husband wouldn't want me away for that long." Or the "I can't leave my family."

    It felt a little dismissive to the women that have gone back to school while being married, after having kids, while working a full time job,etc. It also felt like an excuse. When someone says, "I can't leave my family," I think what they should be saying is "I choose not to leave my family." I don't judge them on making that choice as it's a personal one for all of us, however, I do think whoever is making the comment needs to be aware of the word choice between "I can't" vs. "I choose not to."

    Anyway, I definitely do not believe everyone *needs* to get an MFA. In fact some of my favorites poets do not having them-- Li-Young Lee, Bob Hicok, Naomi Shihab Nye and I'd never want to imply that you need to be have an MFA to be a good writer. An MFA is one way to improve your writing, but so is reading and well, writing.

    But if someone wants to get an MFA and they are choosing not to return to school because they believe "I can't..." it's with that I take issue.

    Hope that clarifies things.

    Thanks for bringing that up.


  5. All good tips. I do find it hard to tell people I'm meeting for the first time that I'm a poet. But I try, just to get their reactions.

    And I agree that you have to do something every day to keep you going as a writer.

    So now I'm going to bang out 4-5 poems. (That's a joke.)

    Great tips!


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