Sunday, November 4, 2012

Poetry and Process: Rules for Writing

The northeastern United States continues to recover from the incredible impact Hurricane Sandy has delivered to us. It's hard to imagine the long path so many people have in front of them to recover from this storm. For those of us who were blessed to be mildly impacted, the issue in front of is a simple one: restore a little order to things: get the kids back to school, get back to work, figure out a routine for keeping the gas tank full in the car. With that in mind, I'm considering order in the writing process - how do we get ourselves writing when it's so easy - even easier than usual - to do something else instead.

As practiced writers know, it's not really hard to find advice on how to write. And as those writers also know, it's exceptionally hard to find good advice on how to write. But if you're well-read across and within the writing industry, you can assemble for yourself some guideposts, some tracks to follow, some tips for maintaining quality and progress, that can come in handy when you're sitting down at the keyboard*, determined to just write something, and you want that something to have a chance to be good. Here are some tips from among the writers I follow:

Poet and columnist Grant Clauser admits he has "a tendency to change ... rules when they no longer suit" him, but his current rule set seems pretty good to me. Two from his most recent set are "Have a reader in mind" (something I've made a case for many times in this space - if you're writing for "no one", you're really writing for "people like you") and "Always be nice to dogs." OK, not entirely sure about that one, but then I've always been more of a cat person.

Children's writer Irene Latham has posted helpful maps for writing press releases and speaking in public as well as crafting poems, and offered up one of my favorite rules: "Engage at least two senses". This evokes the terrific imagery of cooking to me - blending multiple textures, multiple extremes on the sweet-savory continuum seems perfect for writing - blenging multiple elements of lanugage and craft and creating surprising combinatinos along the poetry spectrum. The rest of her rules are pretty good, too.

Robert Lee Brewer, the indefatigable source of poetry energy for Writer's Digest Magazine, expands the zone around the act of writing, listing 10 things that, done regularly, should keep your poetry fuel tank full enough that you can't help but write when the opportunity presents itself. He reminds us that "As a poet, you are an ambassador of poetry to those who are afraid to read it or think it’s something they just don’t 'get'." BTW, are you participating in the PAD Chapbook challenge? That's one way to keep yourself writing.

Anne Lamott - someone with pretty good advising credentials herself - said in an NPR interview that at one time she couldn't write if there were dishes in the sink; now she could write with a corpse in the sink. The trick is to use these - or any other bits of advice that ring true for you - to get to yourself the point where the act of writing is a trained reflex, a habit no more burdensome than breathing, so that when the real world begins to press in around you, it doesn't crowd the poems out.

Up next, the difference between writing poems for a book and writing a book comprised of poems. And how it took me way too long to learn it. Something to add to my personal rules list.

My best wishes to all in the Hurricane Sandy impact area. Be warm and safe, and know you're being prayed for all over the world.

* - or the notebook if you're stubbornly old school or still waiting for PSE&G...

1 comment:

  1. Kind of funny to be talking "rules" for poetry when really there aren't any. :) I'm excited to read your thoughts on poems for a book vs. book of poems.... themes and concepts seem to be essential in the marketplace, but I kind of love a wild mix of poems in a book... Thanks for including me here, and happy happy writing to you!