Writerly Roundup – September 2019
Our Writerly Roundup blog series features a curated collection of articles on the craft of writing and the creative life that we don’t want you to miss.
“So much of entering the space of a poem feels like prophecy.”
Tiana Clark, Divedapper
Often when we reflect on the creative process, we assume that this is simply the process of doing, making the work. What’s often forgotten is the part of creative process that includes sharing the completed work. Tiana Clark sheds light on allowing herself to share her deeply personal poetry in readings, while protecting herself from triggering emotional labor:
A quote that I often think about is from Terrance Hayes in an interview, where he talked about how during the first draft it’s just him and his shadow. The audience isn’t even in the room. That really resonated with me. So for me, that first draft isn’t even that vulnerable to me, it’s just, these are the emotions I’m exercising on the page. Then to your second point, it comes into play when I am reading those poems out loud that I’m like: oh—or when I am thinking about revision or audience—what do I want from my readers? So for me I kind of think about it as a museum curation and there are some exhibits I want people to be able to touch and you can touch me and touch this poem. And others I want to have a twenty foot pole and you can’t have access, there are secrets to this poem you will never ever know. But definitely when I’ve been performing this book it’s really interesting. When I had my reading in New York at Books Are Magic, it was just right after the Kavanaugh hearing, and I don’t normally read my sexual assault poems out loud. It takes a lot of mental energy, it’s a lot of stamina. But I had felt so emboldened and emblazoned by Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony that I was reading those poems to kind of help me drum of courage that particular day. I was tired of feeling powerless.
As far as Clark’s writing process, she weaves her stories with political history to form a moving tapestry with ties that bind her to her reader:
I’ve always written from a very personal landscape. And then from there I’ve always kind of wanted to smash the personal and the political. For me I’ve always felt like no one can ever dispute or argue my own story. I’m always looking for ways inside that center of the venn diagram between the personal and political. I think Natasha Trethewey is a prime example of a poet that exemplifies that nexus. Especially Native Guard which was a transformative book for me, especially in how to reveal your life story woven throughout our national history. It’s an instinct that feels very natural inside my own skin, being mixed that is: my mother being black and my dad being white. The history is tethered and tangled in my blood. So I kind of start from that cellular prologue—that’s my genesis. My own kind of being is a very political landscape.
The parts of ourselves that generate emotional charges within can be the factors that determine whether or not a story will strike a chord within the reader, fusing comparisons to their own memories.
Do you really have to write every day?, Rachel Weaver, The Writer
This article focuses on three different scenarios; those with limited time, those with just enough, and those with ample time. Since our theme is motherhood, at one point or another, every one of us can relate to the feeling of having too little time to devote to the craft of writing. Rachel Weaver explains her method for mitigating the madness:
Between work and family, I don’t have a ton of writing time. I try not to beat myself up with how slowly my projects come together. Mostly, I love having a creative outlet; it makes the rest of my life feel better. However much I can foster it is well worth it.I try to block out several days a month to work on my projects, but mostly I write for a few hours here and there, in between everything else. I rent a shared office space in Louisville and often wear huge noise-canceling headphones so that I can sink into the scene I’m writing completely and forget about where I am. You might be wondering, ‘Why not just wear the big headphones at home and save the monthly rental?’ Well, there’s no laundry at the office, and that really helps me focus.
The life of a writer has hidden rewards, and sometimes twists occur that could at one moment be an exciting door opener, and in the next, a perceived slam in the face. Weaver offers some perspective on the bigger picture:
Sure, we are all aiming toward a finished book, and it’s fantastic to finally hold it in your hand, but that’s only about 20 percent of the overall reward of being a writer. The other 80 percent of the reward comes from the process of living in the world as a writer, which requires you to remain inquisitive about everything, to watch people closely, to think long and hard about what is true and what is not, to feel deeply, to find a place within yourself that is very still and contemplative, and to practice hope and trust that it’s all going to somehow fit together, even though you may not see how yet.
When faced with the enemy of time, the constructs of writing each day can freeze anyone in their path. Taking a few moments to reflect on why this routine feeds the drive, and implementing strategies for solitude could be the tipping point for the next masterpiece.
The Biggest Loser, or How to Start Your Own Rejection Club, Suzanne Roberts, Brevity’s Nonfiction Blog
Let’s face it, rejections are the worst. There’s very little else anyone needs to say about that fact, it just is what it is. Suzanne Roberts came up with a system to not only brush rejections off her shoulder and persist, but also to find some humor and community in the process:
My first recruit for the rejection contest was a teaching colleague. We kept a sheet of paper taped to our office wall, and we wrote the names of the journals that rejected us underneath our names. Students came into our office and assumed our lists were places we’d been published. When we explained that they were our rejections, they laughed, thinking us strange. However, more often than not, they were relieved: not only were their teachers getting rejected, they weren’t ashamed to post it on the wall. The longer my list grew, the more accomplished I felt. At least I was doing something. But my officemate found it depressing, so she declared me the winner and ripped the sheet off the wall.
When our list was gone, I missed that reminder of just how hard I was trying. I knew what I had to do: I solicited members for the Rejection Club.
The first rule (and objective) of “rejection club” is:
This club is based solely on sending out work and tallying rejections, so it works differently than a Writing Group; therefore, you might never see your fellow club member’s work, though if you have, it will allow you to make suggestions of where to send rejected work next time.
Each member of the Rejection Club forwards her rejection to the group via email, allowing the other members to comment on the editors’ poor taste and lack of judgement. Certainly, we all know that perhaps our piece wasn’t ready or doesn’t fit with the aesthetic of the journal, but what’s the fun in that? Poking fun at the diction, grammar, and tone gives us a chance to reject our rejections, which is a necessary first step in coming to terms with the fact that the editor might be right. You have to be careful not to reply to the editor with your witty repartee by mistake, which will then require an apology and explanation that can only make you sound like a crazy person and will ensure that the journal in question will never take your future work. I know this from experience.
Each submission packet counts as one rejection, whether it’s one prose piece or five poems. Anything you submit your writing to—contests, grants, fellowships, panel proposals, residencies—counts. In my little group, the competition has become fierce, and the biggest loser will end up with over 100 rejections. At the end of the year, whoever has the most rejections, is the new Rejection King or Queen. We keep track from one AWP conference to the next, ending with a celebratory dinner. The winner/ biggest loser gets dinner paid for, but more importantly, she earns bragging rights for the entire year. We’ve been at it for four months, and I’m in the lead with 40, though one of my MFA students is closing in, so it’s looking like I’ll have to up my game.
At the end of the day, reward is reward. If an element of competition is involved in risking rejection, how could this challenge allow us to go outside of our comfort zone in writing?
Have you read a compelling article about craft or the creative life that you think should appear in the next Writerly Roundup? Please send links to lmblogcontact (at) literarymama (dot) com—we’d love to hear your input!