Sunday, January 22, 2023

writing routines : structure and chaos

There have been stages in my life where I have had very strict writing routines There have also been stages where I had no routine whatsoever and still, somehow, the writing got done in some strange confluence of chaos and magic. For the past few years, I've been a fan of writing poems in the morning, usually while I eat breakfast, knocking out haphazard drafts in whatever project I am in the midst of while balancing coffee and getting muffin crumbs in my keyboard. It was a habit I had in the studio, where I would grab my Dunkin breakfast downstairs, then devour it while typing as I waited for the printers to warm up. Later, at home, things were a little more measured and less rushed, even during covid lockdowns and day job dysfunction. Here, my mornings were a little slower, so I'd settle in to draft something over coffee still in my robe after I climbed out of the shower. Mostly this was to accomplish what felt like one of the most important parts of my day--sometimes THE most important thing, before the day got its hooks in me. This was after years of struggling to fit writing around work and editing and failing most of the time--or at least failing the output I wanted, the projects I longed to do. 

Before that, I would have hot and heavy periods of productivity, like the fall and spring of my second year of grad school, where, while reading for my comp exams, I was hurriedly finishing what I wanted to be my first book before I turned 25 (lololol).  The aim was ridiculous, but the steady writing made me better. Ditto in 2001-2002, where I was writing a lot to keep up with all the amazing online journals that I was discovering and beginning to publish in and submitting like wildfire.  Or my MFA years, where I was writing poems for class, either while I was working endless Saturdays or waiting in a coffee shop between classes. There was a fallow period after grad school ended, but things picked up again in 2012 and continued on for the next few years in spurts and jumps, but not really with any regularized practices.  The result were projects that stalled out, then were finished hastily before publication (like the shared properties of water and stars or beautiful, sinister.)

I did somehow manage to get things down on paper or screen--enough to fill a couple books, including major characters in minor films, salvage, and sex & violence. These poems were often written in chunks when I felt a fire under me, but not in the more methodical draft per day way I started writing in 2018. In some ways, it was therapeutic, particularly since many of those poems written over breakfast were helping me process my mother's death at the end of 2017. If everything else was spiraling out of control, at least each morning that poem, and then the one after it, was down on paper and ready for revision. The more recent books came from this practice, including automagicfeed and animal, vegetable, monster, as well as most of dark country. I have periods, like this fall, where I barely write at all due to other circumstances or lack of the right mood, but try to keep steadily working on projects.

Since leaving the library last year, I've gone back and forth, sometimes writing in the mornings first thing, other times saving it for the midnights. Since there is less knocking around my head and stressing me out, writing at night before bed is possible and doesn't feel like a strenuous thing.  I find, however, that the poems are better in the mornings when my head is fresher, so have gone back to doing this.  Mostly, it's a matter of getting something down, which I will then go back in a few times and tweak before it's finished.  Sort of like a painting where you make the outlines and go back in with a finer tip brush to make it better. Sometimes, nothing is even remotely recognizable.  Other times you can make out a bit of tree, a sliver of sky.

Despite my measured progress on most things, I wonder sometimes if it might not be interesting to spend a weekend with a singular project, getting a draft of something down in one fell swoop.  It seems daunting and over ambitious, and I'd likely fail, but who knows what might bloom there...

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