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.
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