1 + 1 + 1 = 3

One of the biggest “problems” I had when beginning to write was overwhelm.  I simply couldn’t figure out when and how much I was supposed to read, write, and revise.  And I only had one project at the time.  Multiple projects get really complicated.

After years of thinking in conveniently vague terms about how I didn’t know where to start because I couldn’t figure out how to work efficiently, I did something different.  I asked someone.  I asked someone who knew.

The day I asked was like any normal day.  Except that it was also the day of the Boston Massacre.  And in fact, I had asked my BIG question only about 2 hours before terror struck Boston.  And I had felt the whoosh of writer’s revelation right as that horror and a million other horrors occurred around the globe.

There was a time in my life I would have felt guilty about that.

But that day, I didn’t feel guilt.  I just felt sad.  And I watched the news.  And I kept on writing.  Because the forces of positive creativity are needed in this world.  It heals.  And it doesn’t just heal “you,” the writer.  It touches the people around you.

I believe that.

That morning I walked into a student conference with Vievee Francis.  When I walked in she was typing on her computer.  She had a neat stack of books and journals beside her.  She was humming softly in an empty coffee shop.  There was one cup of coffee sitting right beside one glass of red wine.  It was 11:00 am in the morning.

It’s true: I fell a little more in love right then.

At some point in our talk, I just asked: how do you work?  How do you balance the multiple requirements of “writer’s work?”

And her answer was: 1 + 1 + 1 = 3.

How simple!  How elegant!  Why didn’t I think of that?

Basically, she tries to spend as much time reading as she does writing.  And she tries to spend as much time writing as she does revising.  So, we have a grand equivalency!

Up to that point, I was only dedicating one session a week to creating a new draft.  After that, I added two more sessions: one for revision and one for reading.

1 + 1+ 1 = 3.

At this point in time, it’s all I can manage, although I look forward to the day when I can manage more.  This Fall, I plan to ADD one more drafting session per week so that I have two drafts a week – not just one.  Here we go poetry manuscript!

Using this routine has really helped me know myself as a writer.  It’s like my very own writer YOGA. 

Writer Yoga

See, I had always told myself a little story.  My story was that it was so hard to write a new draft –what would I write about so why bother . . . this is what Anne Lamott calls channel K-FUCT.  I had to change the channel.

A weekly drafting session showed me that it was really easy to write a first draft.  That made me feel great!  But when I started adding revision and reading into the mix I foundered.  I realized I didn’t like reading as much as I thought.  And I HATED revision.

Whhhuuuutttt????!!!!??!  The Blasphemy!!!!!!!!!

I’m a poet.  And there are many poems I don’t like reading.  I read them anyway.

Vievee admonished us to read, read, read.  There have been a few weeks when I didn’t stick to my routine – but even when I couldn’t draft or revise I always tried to READ.

Reading is essential to craft.  Writers know this.  Writers who want to publish or are publishing know this.  Apprenticeship and peership is a critical concept in writing – and especially poetry as it is the least accessible of any contemporary literary genre.  The poets themselves are hardly accessible and barely visible outside the poetry world, even though sites like Poets.org and Poets and Writers do a beautiful job at making them more accessible.

Also + very important: if you can’t get into that workshop or class that you want for whatever reason, you can ALWAYS learn from the poets by reading them.

I read stuff I like.  Stuff I don’t like.  Poets I’ve heard of. Poets I’ve never heard of.  Poets I don’t get.  Poets I’m in love with and want to stalk forever.  You get it, right?

In YOGA, you hold the pose.  In reading, you hold the pose.

Revision is essential to getting published.  Truth be told, the most I usually do in revision sessions is tentatively decide which drafts go into my “manuscript” folder and which ones get killed.  I often don’t fulfill my revision session because I haven’t yet found the exact right motivation tool (aka Jedi Mind Trick) to endure that suffering.

Revision is largely an exercise in trusting yourself.

So for me it is a crisis of confidence.

I’m working with that.  I look forward to maturing as a writer and being able to handle my revision process better.

I do know enough to know which poems I want to spend time revising.  Later.

The Work of the Writer in 5 Easy Steps

If you’re not already doing this on a weekly basis, experiment with doing the following steps:

  1. Whatever your genre, read in that genre
  2. Whatever your genre, draft in that genre
  3. Whatever your genre, revise in that genre
  4. Spend equal time on each of the above.
  5. Adapt, work, do whatever the fuck you want!

Next week I will tell you about some of my favorite JEDI MIND TRICKS that I use to keep my reading, writing, and revision obligations.



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