How the Moon Became a Poem

Storm Moon photo

In Tuesday’s mail came the May 2017 issue of POEM.  POEM is a journal of the Huntsville Literary Association, and has been continuously published since 1967—fifty years. They publish perfect little poems—the journal itself is not quite 5”x7”—and I had submitted a pack of poems to them just to say I tried.

So when I got the acceptance last year, I was thrilled—especially because it was one of the Moon Poems from my narrative manuscript (you know, the one I’ve submitted like 50 places).  The Moon Poems, with maybe two exceptions, are “perfect little” 15-line lyrics, that appear throughout the manuscript and (at least in my mind anyway), represent the poetic output of one of the main characters, thought the voice in this particular poem is Vidalia’s, not Tallulah’s.

I’ve been trying to remember what initiated my interest in writing the Moon Poems.  While it may be true that I wanted to demonstrate a range of my writing ability (that I can write something other than narrative), it seemed important to incorporate the moon almost as a character in the manuscript, especially as it is about witches and women who harness energy and strength from the moon in order to enact their spells.

The poems each take as their title one of the (many) colloquial/ northern Algonquin names for each month’s full moon—though the February full moon is technically the “Snow Moon”—but of course, there’s no such thing as snow storms in February in Louisiana, but there is rain, so I fudged a little, and made the poem “Storm.” (Actually, this poem could also represent July—which is the month of  the “Thunder Moon” as well as “Buck Moon” but I believe I meant it for February.  But the word “thunder” appears in the poem itself…maybe the connection to February is wrong?)  As I think about it, February actually has two poems in the manuscript, this one and “Hunger Moon.” Anyway, writing about the moon felt authentic to me, and authentic to the experience of all the women characters in the manuscript.  (Not surprising—as Marge Piercy reminds us, “The Moon Is Always Female.”)

With this publication, the total number of poems in the manuscript that have been published in journals comes to 11—when the manuscript is 83 poems, my publication rate looks feeble, a mere 13%.  But it has been difficult to publish poems from this collection because it’s narrative (the Moon Poems not withstanding), and they are interdependent, and how do you take individual poems which all contribute to a story out of their milieu and make them make sense as stand-alones?

I’d very much like to have at least 20 poems from this collection published—that seems like a reasonable goal—then I would feel like maybe the manuscript would finally have a chance.  And getting the rest of the Moon Poems published might be the way to accomplish that goal.

On the other hand, there is still the other idea I have been kicking around in my head…taking out the line breaks in nearly all of the manuscript poems (except the Moon Poems), and trying to get it published as a hybrid flash fiction/poetry work.  So far I’m not that desperate—I mean, I conceived the book as poetry, and would hate to lose the beauty of well-wrought-lines, so I’m going to hold out the hope until I get the next batch of manuscript rejections that it will get published as the verse novel it is.

But the line break removal thing is still a possibility… because it has worked for me before, transforming what I thought were poems into flash fiction and flash nonfiction—or rather, perhaps the conversion process only revealed what their true form meant them to be.  And in many cases, these erstwhile poems found homes in journals like right away.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy “Storm Moon.”  Let me know what you think.

Contests, & Waiting, & Rejections, Oh My

What does it take to get a book of poetry published in this country?  I wish I could write a blog where I list out all the steps a person needs to follow to help ensure success in this process.  These are the things I would mention:

  1. Write a book of poetry.
  2. Get friends to read it and make suggestions for revision.
  3. Edit and polish the hell out of it.
  4. Send it out to publishers.
  5. Get published.
  6. Become the latest darling of the poetry world.
  7. Repeat for Books 2, 3, 4…

Except, it hasn’t worked that way.  Well, I mean, I’ve got Steps 1-4 down pat.  I’ve sent out my manuscript (at this point) 42 times (which as you know is the answer to life, the universe, and everything), so you would think that perhaps the universe will come calling for me pretty soon.  (And to be fair, after a hiatus of several blues-ridden months where all I was getting was rejections, I’ve sent it out 10 places in the last month, 5 of which are contests. I guess you could say I’m feeling hopeful again—so technically speaking, it’s only received 32 rejections.)

And I get rejection is part of the gig.  Your manuscript has to find the right person who loves, loves, loves your writing, someone who will pass it along to the next reader, who also needs to love, love, love it.  And so on.  And contests aren’t the best way to ensure that your manuscript finds a loving audience, because readers simply don’t have the time to invest—particularly if your book is a little odd. (Which I fully admit mine is.)  Readers barely have time to invest even if the poetry they read is something they expect and understand. I know this.  On an intellectual level, I know this.  Everyone is getting rejected (well, except for one person).  Most contests report that they’ve had anywhere from 600-1000 entries.  Lots of people are getting told to take their manuscript and go bite the big wienie.  I get it.  I just wish that the process didn’t suck so hard.

I have a writer friend who told me that he knew someone for whom it took 70 times before her book won a contest and got published.  70 times.  Considering that most contests only award $1000 and run $25 a pop to submit, that times 70 contests comes out to $1750, meaning the contest cycle put her $750 into the hole.  (I don’t even want to think about how much into the hole I am.)  (Not that anyone goes into poetry to earn a living.)  (Honestly, what kind of business model is this, where the poet has to take it on the chin, nose, or other body part to get her work into the world?)

Of course, railing about it here is not going to change the status quo.  For whatever reason (because hardly anyone reads poetry anymore and contests are one of the only ways that publishers can make any money), this is how the process goes if one wants to be published by a reputable press and hopefully receive accolades for it.  And I buy into the system (literally and figuratively), which makes me complicit, and I have to be ok with that.   I am ok with that. Because, hey, who doesn’t want to win the Academy of American Poets Walt Whitman Award and spend 6 weeks lounging around and poeming in Italy plus get their book published and sent out to everyone who is on the rolls of the AAP?  If you won that, the $35 fee you invested (for me $70, since this is my second time around) when you submitted your manuscript would be hella worth it.

I could just wish I knew what the magic number of submission times for my book  to get published would be.  Because that would so alleviate my anxiety.  Like, let’s say the Goddess of Publication were to come down from On High and whisper one night when I’m asleep:  64 times, JC!   Then I would know that I only have 22 more rejections to go.  That would be great.  I could send them out all on one day and get it all done, knowing that soon I’d hear the good news.  Ah well.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch…

I haven’t been working on Hecate Applebough.  I was thinking about why this is, and it’s a combination of factors—the weirdo exhaustion, a preponderance of tennis matches in the evening when I would normally write, and a renewed vigor about writing poems.  But actually, those aren’t the biggest reasons.  I think the biggest reason is because I’m waiting to get notes back about the first book…and so I’m kind of feeling like I don’t want to write any more on the 3rd book in case there are repeated mistakes in the 1st one that I could prevent myself from writing in the 3rd book if I just knew to avoid them.

That’s certainly a true enough statement.  Avoiding mistakes if they’re preventable is always preferable to making a bunch more and having to go back and fix them.  But if I’m honest, another thing making writing the 3rd one a pain right now is I’ve dug myself into plot hole and I really don’t know how to get Cate out of it.  When I sit down at the computer and see that last chapter., I’m like, “Bleah” and then I get up and do something else.  It’s the first time since starting to write this series that I’ve just felt like I’ve lost control over the story and over Cate’s life.

And so in your endless wisdom, you might say, just throw out that chapter and start fresh.  And that’s really good, practical advice.  But the thing is, I don’t know what to replace it with.  I don’t know how I can make it better.  I have a blind spot right now.  So I kind of thought it might be ok to just set Hecate aside for a little while, and focus on writing poems and sending them out.  Maybe when I get the notes on the 1st book, it will help me see the 3rd one with a fresh eye too.  (There is no pressure on the person reading the book right now to hurry up and make those notes… I need some down time from Cate, so it’s totally ok.  Take as long as you need.  Srsly.)

And maybe this weekend, I’ll get a bee in my bonnet and suddenly figure out how to proceed with Hecate.  Or maybe I’ll write three more poems.  When it comes to my writing, it’s always just a mystery what will happen.  I kind of like it that way.

And, as a total non sequitur, please enjoy a photo of Jenny, who has been keeping me company:

2016-03-09 20.05.25

Report on NaNoWriMo, Week 1

I’m just going to say it:  so far, NaNoWriMo is going great for me.  I’m doing everything wrong, everything I remind my students, ad nauseam, not to do—I’m telling more than showing, cheaping out on sensory description, failing to use character tags as effectively as I could, lollygagging (emphasis on gagging, I expect) with my dialogue, using adverbs a little more heavy-handedly than I ought.  And it’s FUCKING AMAZING  how much you can get written when you just don’t worry about MAKING ART.

I’m having a GREAT time.  I love every damn flawed word I write.  It’s so much fun to just focus on plot and vomit words down on the page—and to know that I can delay the revision process till much later, if I want.  Or not at all.  There’s a heady freedom knowing that there’s no stakes attached to this “novel.” I don’t agonize over the words the way I do when I’m writing poems, or even my “real” stories—here, I’m just racking up the word count.  If I can’t think of a more elegant word for when my character feels emotionally bankrupt and friendless and dorky, she just says she feels “crappy.”  And I’m totally ok with that.

Why?  Partly because she’s a teenager, and teenagers are not particularly known for their emotional depth and elegance in articulating the way they feel.  Partly because I know that this “novel” is an exercise in stamina and persistence.  And partly because I know that even if I write the lousiest, lamest, most derivative novel this November, that’s ok.  Because it’s practice writing.  It’s making me sit down every day and prioritize my writing over everything else.  And face it, that’s what we writers need to do.

And you know what else?  I would love my friends to read this novel when it’s done—because it’s cool in its way—and its aesthetic is so not me (at least I don’t think so) that it would be interesting to see what my friends think.  The way sharing writing with friends used to be—something you did for fun (instead of something you did because you’re concerned with publication)… Geez, when you have no expectations about publishing, you’re crazy free—like going to Kroger in a skimpy tank top and no bra when you’re a 46DD kind of free.

Something else I like about this novel is that it’s definitely not like most young adult fiction that seems determined to be depressing, dystopic, and dysfunctional.  This is about a girl at a new high school who likes to write poetry and who finds a guy at the school who like to write it too.  Sure, there’s bound to be heartbreak, but no one is going to be shooting people with arrows and trying to stay alive so your district can eat a little better the next year.  My characters are basically happy.  How’s that for innovative?

I think, honestly, overall, there are some good ideas in my story, and I actually kind of love my main character and her relationship with her Mom—they have an amazing rapport, and I like writing them together.  (Maybe I’m Mary-Sue-ing the hell out of them… somehow I have no problem with that. ) Actually I like all my characters.  None of them has disappointed me, and I don’t expect them to. They’re just cool people I’d love to hang out with… that’s what fiction should do, right?  Make you fall in love with the characters and want to Netflix and chill with them?

As I think about it, maybe there’s some real potential in this book that it could become something awesome at some point (with massive revision, let’s not kid ourselves—it desperately needs the artist’s/ critic’s eye leveled against it, and all of its blemishes to be smoothed away with the writer’s equivalent of Clearasil).  But again, if it doesn’t go anywhere, that’s ok too.

The main point is, it’s fun.  And I feel like there hasn’t been a lot of fun in my writing this past year.  I’ve definitely had some whimsy, but not out-and-out fun.

It’s fun to break the rules.  I possess such a serious attitude towards writing in general—I’m so concerned with making art, and creating something that will resonate with Important Readers (like editors and other academic creative writers and journal-reading types), that, frankly, it’s kind of constipating, artistically-speaking.

This novel, in contrast, is the Dulcolax approach to writing.  Anything can happen.  Characters can do stupid shit and say the unexpected thing—and I can worry about making it work later. I’m going to go on those writing tangents—I can be a little more plot driven and not obsess about creating these finely-wrought (overwrought?) characters who gnash their teeth in their sensitivity.  Sometimes my characters have whole paragraphs of dialogue that doesn’t seem to go anywhere.  OMG, the dialogue doesn’t drive the story forward!  Oh, the horror!  You know what I say to that?  So what.

And my characters laugh and smile a lot.  And they gaze at each other intently.  Yeah, I know:   I really need to expand their action repertoire.  They need to do more than laugh and smile and gaze intently at each other. They need to “inhabit their space.” (I tell my students that all the time about characters in their stories and plays—make them physical beings, block their movements, blah blah blah.) I know I need to move their asses around more effectively and get them from place to place with a bit more style.

But not right now I don’t.  And why is that?  Because it’s my novel, and I can.

Even with the “minor” setback of the exploding Coke Zero that decimated the motherboard in my desktop computer yesterday and the possible permanent loss of 1200 words (and potentially everything else I’ve ever written—though I’m really trying hard to have faith that my data is safe and not freak out and imagine the worst, as is my nature to do), hasn’t really fazed me.  In fact, it’s not even a real loss… it’s like I’ve “temporarily misplaced” 1200 words—sure, they comprised a few really good scenes with some funny dialogue—but hell, if the scenes are gone for good,  there’s more where that came from. Because I feel like the Mount Vesuvius of language—there’s just so much inside of me oozing out everywhere—even if I actually really have lost those 1200 words, that ain’t no big thing.

To have this experience in my writing life is remarkable and wonderful and really weird for me.  It makes me wonder what I could accomplish in other areas of my life if I just gave in to the fun and didn’t care about being proper and appropriate and sensible and practical—maybe I would be as grandiose and giddy as I feel now.

We’ll see how I feel next week—maybe by then NaNoWriMo will get harder, maybe I won’t feel so Mount Vesuvi-esque with my language… But as of today, I have logged 6899 official words so far—which technically counts the 1200 I lost, if I’m remembering correctly, but since there’s still a chance my data is safe, I’m counting them.

And if they’re really gone, like I said, it’s ok, I’ll just write more to catch up.

38 Days Until NaNoWriMo, or: Oh Holy Geezus

November is National Novel Writing Month, and while it’s still roughly five weeks away, I’ve  decided to test my mettle and give it a try.  As you know (from many, many posts), my experience of writing fiction is middlin’-to-poor, and while I have no illusions that I will produce The Great American Novel, let alone 50,000 words in one month, I kind of like the thrill of trying something new and frankly terrifying.

After all, what’s more terrifying than having to produce 1667 words a day for 30 days?  (Well, ok, there’s a lot of things more terrifying, but this post isn’t about bungee jumping, mountain climbing, or singing in front of a live audience.)  At 325 words per page (double-spaced, of course), that works out to five-ish pages of manuscript a day.  Five manuscript pages… for a sustained vision with a sustained plot and sustained characters for 150 pages.  *gasp*  (Best not to look at it that way.  I might reconsider this madness.)

I need to be terrified.  I’ve had this thought recently that I really have been sitting on my laurels.  It’s almost a year since I finished The Manuscript (the manuscript I sent to nearly 30 contests), and I haven’t produced anything of significance since.  Yes, yes, I’ve written a few short creative nonfiction pieces and I’ve been diligent about submitting, which has resulted in a number of publications this year and I’m not discounting them.  And I’m not discounting that I was even a finalist in one of the contests, which was gratifying and nice, and much better than just being an also-ran—but what have I produced?

What have I written this year that I can say, “Wow, look at me!” on December 31st and have auld acquaintances be duly impressed over a glass of cheap champagne?

The answer is, rienJe ne fais rien.  That sucks and it needs to change.  But poetry lately is not working for me—I’m not feeling it.  I was feeling it a few weeks ago, when I was going through my prose poem “renaissance,” but that has since dried up—because I wrote a bunch of trash and I couldn’t get it to work so I’ve left it behind like a bad Kirk Cameron film.

I could be all kinds of bitchy and blame my writing group which is currently on summer hiatus.  (Oh wait, it’s Fall now.  Yes, I’ll blame them.)  No, no, I’m kidding—they all really have legitimate reasons they’ve abandoned me and our writing group… Ooh!  Listen to me being passive aggressive! I know, Grow up, JC.  Sometimes, it really is about more than just me…but I miss them and I miss writing with/for them… And I’m sad that right now everyone’s lives are so complicated that we can’t get together.  But my not writing isn’t their fault, and I know it.

And… yes, I’m coming to a point about NaNoWriMo… I’m just not ready to make it yet.

I was sitting with Bob today at lunch, and I asked him what he was working on writing-wise.  And he echoed a thought I have often had:  he mentioned that he’s “got a lot of stuff but none of it fits together.”  Listening to people talk about their writing process is so meaningful for me, because it reminds me just what a weird thing creation is—how capricious it is and how much we’re just sometimes at its mercy.  I know some people really believe that they can only write when the Muse strikes them—I hear that from my creative writing students all the time—but I believe that the Muse can be coerced.

That’s right.  The Muse can be coerced… by developing a writing habit.  I realize I’m not saying anything you haven’t heard a thousand times.  Blah blah get in the habit of writing blah blah write every day.  So hence, NaNoWriMo.  I’m fairly certain that whatever I write during the month of November will probably only be good enough to line the catbox with.  But what I’m looking forward to is that commitment to myself and my writing—I figure, two hours a day should do it.  If I can’t write 1667 words in two hours every day for a month then I should mail my Ph.D. back to Nebraska and ask for a refund.

But, wait, you ask, don’t you already have a writing habit, JC?  Kind of.  But not two-hours-a-day’s worth of writing habit.  And certainly not a fiction writing habit.  I think I want to do NaNoWriMo just to try it.  To see if I can.  To challenge myself.  And also, to get away from dumb distractions for a few hours every day (*cough cough* Facebook—Twitter—Tumblr *cough cough*)—which is, itself, as terrifying as writing 50,000 words.

I guess the best part is, I don’t have any expectations.  When I was working on The Manuscript, I really believed it was going somewhere.  I wrote it out of order, and I wasn’t sure what was going to happen, but I had the expectation that when I was done, it would  be a thing.  And yeah, it’s a thing alright. A thing nobody wants.  (Oops, sorry, I really need to get that cynicism under control.) Whatever “novel” or novel-like-thing I write this November, however, will be an adventure.  Beyond that, no expectations.

Though surely, somewhere in that 50,000 words, there will be something of value?  It can’t all be shit—because I’m not a shit writer.  (I mean, not usually.)

Who knows, maybe if the story winds up being awful, I can Sharpie-marker all of the bad words and just keep the good ones and turn them into erasure poems?

And even if I can’t write erasure poems, I will certainly have a story to share on New Year’s Eve, about the time I got this nutty, terrifying idea to write a novel in a month…

Headus Injurius, Or, Why Can’t I Write Fiction Too?

I was having one of my “tired days” yesterday, and when I came home from work, I went directly to bed. I did get up later, but never with the kind of focus I needed to be able to write a blog post (well, not one that would have been coherent, anyway), so here is my Wednesday post on Thursday.

I’ve mentioned my interest in nonfiction before, but I’ve also become interested in writing fiction too. It doesn’t come easily, writing fiction, so I am a great admirer of those who can write it “easily.” I put “easily” in quotes because I know that writing well doesn’t come easily to anyone—an author has to work at it. But of course some people have a knack for writing fiction, and some, like me, have some really great ideas that, because they have the attention span and stamina of a gnat, rarely get explored in a long form like fiction. Oh sure, there’s always flash, and I do have some ability to write flash because it’s short, and it has a kind of poetic aesthetic which I can get behind. But I want to write “real” short stories.

I have a number of partially completed stories that I’ve written in the last few weeks. The problem is, I can’t get past the “partially.” This is my fiction writing process:

  1. I have a great idea.
  2. I begin to write the great idea.
  3. I write myself into a hole (or into boredom).
  4. I wish, fervently, for a tornado, or earthquake, or angel or other Act of God to happen to get my characters out of the hole I’ve dug.
  5. I know deus ex machinas are cheesy and horrible, and reject any Act of God that occurs to me as being the last desperate attempt of a failed fiction writer.
  6. I give up on the story.

You see? It’s hopeless. And what I really don’t understand is that conventional wisdom says, “Read voraciously in the genre you want to write and you will be able to write it.” I do this! I read mysteries, literary fiction, romance fiction, YA, monster/ fantasy stories. I read a lot of fiction (as well as nonfiction and poetry, of course—and drama). I don’t understand how come I can’t translate all this great modeling being done by the fiction authors I read into fiction of my own.

Conventional wisdom also says “Go with your strengths.” But maybe whoever came up with that bit of conventional wisdom was some bozo who wants us to stay with what we know so we won’t encroach on their areas of expertise! It’s possible.

Or it’s possible that the idea of going with our strengths (writing what we know?) is to keep us from banging our heads against the wall. Believe me, I’ve felt like doing some head-banging lately—and not of the metal concert variety. I have written these partial stories, and I just know that if I could finish them, they’d be cool. But where do I get that impetus to finish? Or perhaps a better question is, “Is there anything beyond the initial cool idea rattling around in my brain?” (Sometimes, I doubt it.)

Certainly it’s a matter of training—my creative writing background consists entirely of poetry and poetry classes. (I wonder if there’s a Remedial Story Writing 101 class I could take?) But I want to write beyond that—and to write in a sustained way. I just don’t know how to do it, and it’s so frustrating to come up against limitations that I don’t even know why I have them. How hard can it be to write a story? Why does it have to feel excruciating? Why does my brain have to come up with these ideas that I clearly can’t develop beyond a few pages? It seems so unfair. And pointless.

And so I suppose I’m going to continue banging my head against the wall, writing these partial stories until SOME DAY I get the message from outer space or wherever that lets me actually finish one. Or maybe I’m just destined to be a failed fiction writer. But somehow, I can’t accept that.

Well, not yet, anyway.

(Fiction writers:  how do you do it????)

Hey, Baby, What’s Your Writing Process?

Yes, yes, I know I said I would write every Wednesday—and here it is Thursday, the very first week, and I have failed.  In my defense, yesterday was a long day made longer because it was a freshmyn orientation day, and I was so exhausted that I came home and went almost straight to bed, good intentions be damned.  Alright, I’ll try harder next week to maintain the schedule.

Moving on.

The last few days, I’ve had a character floating in my head—or I should say, the mother of a minor character (Rodessa) I already wrote about in another piece.  I had intended to write about Rodessa’s early life, because in the other work, she was mostly a wizened old crone, but somehow, her mother’s story suddenly seemed compelling to me.  Perhaps I will get around to writing about Rodessa, but right now, Azucena wants to speak—through, ironically, it is Rodessa telling her mother’s story.

I’m not really sure what is happening yet.  I feel like I’m writing a lot of exposition. I tell my students that sometimes you have to “write for discovery.”  In other words—you’re writing, perhaps not with a very clear plan, but just to see what might happen.  Right now, I’m writing to find out about Azucena as a character—and since I’m doing character building, it makes sense that there is a lot of exposition—which I will probably trim later on—because exposition tells us who characters are and what the situation is in which they find themselves.  That is the purpose of discovery.  Using Rodessa as the narrator helps focus the discovery though, because, being her daughter, Rodessa should have a good sense of what her mother is like.  In other words, I’m trusting the narrator to reveal to me what needs to be revealed.  The plot can be worked out later.

What is surprising to me about the story is its form.  It seems to be emerging as something halfway between a memoir and an oral history or testimony one might find in a historical society journal.  I don’t know if the form is part of the discovery phase, or if, like a lot of the writing I do lately, it’s experimenting with form—or, more likely, it’s defying form altogether.  (Like poems I write are actually memoirs or stories that haven’t found their right form yet.)  I do know that if I complete this project, it will be yet another piece I don’t know what to do with in terms of submission—publishers don’t generally like writing that flounces conventional forms (or genres).  But I’m getting ahead of myself.  I need to write the thing first!

What I really want to talk about today is process.  Read any book on creative writing, and it will probably tell you a version of the following.  But this is my approach—these are my writing process phases, if you will (and I use them when I teach):

  • Unintentional writing:  This is an assignment I often give to my students.  I tell them, “Write for 15 minutes without stopping and see if anything emerges.”  Journaling, blogging, freewriting, brainstorming, all of that falls under this category.  I personally should do more unintentional writing.  I have found that when I practice it more frequently, interesting images and bits of ideas appear like mushrooms—and there’s so much you can do with mushrooms!  Once, an “unintentional writing” wound up being a prose poem (with revision, of course).  But if I hadn’t let my mind just wander where it will, that poem would never have appeared.
  • Invention exercises:  This is generative material, for when I know I want to flex my brain muscles—I’ll come up with some parameter that I have to meet in 10 unique ways.  Ideas come with a little more rapidity than they can do when I’m not writing with a purpose.  So, I might say, “Write 10 reasons someone might find a stray dog  in their  kitchen” or “List 10 things you might do in a bathtub besides bathe.”  Give yourself a weird little list, and be amazed with how quickly you can come up with the ideas.  I usually have my students choose one or more items from the list and then have them do some “guided” unintentional writing… that is, they freewrite with a topic.
  • Writing for Discovery:  Here, the writing is much more intentional in its direction (as I was mentioning previously)—there may be characters, image patterns, story ideas, metaphors, etc., etc., that are swarming around in my head and I have a direction in mind with a way to use them—it’s just not fully formed yet.  (To be fair, I think most writing falls into this category—I mean, who really plots in minute detail what is going to happen in a piece of writing?  Talk about zapping the creativity to slag when you overthink things, right?)
  • Writing with Purpose:  You’ve figured everything out more or less, and are cracking the whip on yourself and writing it all down, come hell or high water.  I think at some point I may choose to revisit the definition of this phase, to make it more elegant.  I will say that sometimes in tandem with Writing with a Purpose is its near and dear relation, Slogging Through the Muck (also known as Powering Through).  Writing with a Purpose is all about getting that shit done—even if it makes you so annoyed you’d rather clean your house than write, even if you’re so bored with every single word you’re writing, you’re only writing to meet a word count or a line count or a page number–some arbitrary stopping point that you’re not sure you’ll reach, but you’re going to die trying.  You’re doing it, and that’s what matters. Because after all, after you get it of your brain and onto your computer or paper, then you can work on the best part of all, which is Revision.
  • Revision, as anyone will tell you, is where the magic happens. There are a number of steps I could illuminate—and maybe I’ll save that for a future post.  But right now I’m just going to list the quick and dirty version. Revision is certainly often the most difficult part of the writing process, but it’s the most rewarding because here’s where you can do all the fancy work—where you look at all your verbs, and notice how you rely too frequently on “to be” (I notice I do this and I hate that about myself), and you get the chance to replace it with a more precise action verb instead.  Here is where you merciless attack all flabby nouns and replace them with more robust ones.  Here is where you can strengthen your image patterns, where you can work on the music and lyricism of your poetry, whether it’s increasing all the o-vowel sounds or repeating certain words to add resonance.  Revision is all about finding a piece’s most perfect form, most perfect voice.  All the “heavy lifting” is done—it’s just a matter of approaching perfection.  (Not attaining it of course, because perfection is a myth, but you get my drift.)
  • Editing:  This is the cosmetic job after the fact–last minute once-overs for spelling and grammar and any other little formatting things that somehow got overlooked before.  I’m not even sure it is its own category.  But it is an important part of the writing process, so I don’t want to leave it out, even if the topic bores me because I generally have perfect grammar. 😉

Anyway, I’m sure I haven’t written anything you haven’t thought about your own process.  But on that rare case I have, you’re welcome.  Use it for good or ill, but write something awesome tonight.  Or save the awesome for tomorrow, and just write anything at all tonight.

If I Were Virgil Suárez

My poet friends used to joke that if you wanted to get your poetry published, all you had to do was put Cuban-American poet Virgil Suárez’s name on your submission.  For a while, it seemed like no matter what literary journal you picked up, there would at least one poem by him included–and it didn’t matter what the journal was–it could be a nothing-in-particular start-up journal, or it could be the Prairie Schooner.    I also heard–though I can’t substantiate it–that he had this scary complicated system for submitting his works… and gasp, he simultaneously submitted (back when that wasn’t a thing). The point was, he was very good at placing his work.

I don’t know what Virgil Suárez has been doing lately poetry-wise (his last book of poems came out in 2005)–but according to his Florida State University webpage, he’s just published a book called The Soviet Circus Comes to Havana and Other Stories (C & R Press, 2014) ($15.95 on Amazon)–so, at least I’m not competing for space in journals because of him.

But I am competing for space in journals… and losing, based on the two rejections I received today.  One rejection said that they didn’t “love the piece enough” to send it on to the next level of discussion; the other one praised the “ambition” of the work, but then stabbed me in the heart with the criticism that they found my work “too prosy.”  That just struck me as wrong.  My writing tends to be narrative, but it’s in no way “too prosy.”  I know from prosy–after all, I see student creative writing all the time–talk about prosy!  But of course, journal editors are human, and humans are subjective.  I wasn’t overly bothered by the rejections–submitting is a game to me at this point.

Not that I in any way mean that I don’t take the submission process seriously–I do.  I do research on the journals I submit–I generally try to read them before I send them my work.  But I guess as a writer you just get to the point where it’s all just a game–trying to figure out what certain people will like based on what they showcase in their journals.  If I were the Virgil Suárez of the past, that machine of publishing, I might just send my work everywhere, scatter-shot, and hope something sticks.  I might have a hugely complicated Excel file that lists every journal everywhere, and I might cross-list all the poems that I’ve simultaneously submitted–perhaps the same batch of poems for 15 different journals, and have 80 such batches sent out at once.

But that is gamifying the publication process way to much for the likes of me–that’s a little like playing all the numbers in the lottery.  It might work–and maybe if I were that mono-focused, I could do that and be published far and wide in any number of start-ups and well-established journals.  But on the other hand, my very analog system–I put all my submissions on index cards filed alphabetically by journal–seems to work for me.  I can manage that.  I feel good about my process of reading submission calls, reading the journals whose calls interest me, and submitting my work to them.

It may not net me a lot of pubs, but it feels like an accomplishment when I see all my index cards, even the ones that fall under the “Rejected” tab, as today’s two rejections now do.