Poetry (for A.E. Ash)

Success needs to be celebrated! My very dear friend, A.E. Ash was just published in “Five Poetry” magazine!

I am a huge fan of poetry. I am not a poet.

In writing prose, the trick is always to show what’s happening, both inside and out of the characters, rather than telling what is happening. Immersing the reader in the characters’ thoughts, actions, and surroundings lets them feel as if they are right there on the page. It makes the worlds and words real.

In the prose I write, there is always a next moment. Even after, “The End,” there is an assumption of more moments that follow, left undocumented.

My favorite poetry is more immediate. ‘Here are the words of this single experience. That is all.’

The details selected must resound with the reader, like the vibrations of a tuning fork, first loud and strong, then fading until only an echo of the sound remains in you. The words are chosen, carefully, to capture the essence of each moment, plucked in your memory like the strings of a harp.

Poetry provides a fun-house mirror that lets you see yourself through the words of the poet. Each time you read a passage, it reaches deeper inside your psyche, sometimes with greater clarity, sometimes less. Some passages are as obvious as a painting complete with a plaque explaining what you see. Some are thick with meaning, pulling at your mind as you slog through each word and still requiring you to go back and re-read them to recover the reflections of yourself that you missed the first or fiftieth time.

And then there are those images, those phrases and words that hit a harmonic chord with your soul, that make you remember yourself and leave you breathing, “I know this…” Great poetry accesses those fathomless depths, changing each time you read it to reflect back who you are in this one moment, and the next.

Monkey Mind

It’s amazing the things that I’ll come up with to distract myself from writing (take this blog post, for instance). Earlier, I caught myself looking at my arms and wondering if my biceps were the same size. I’ll suddenly remember a picture that I just have to send to someone right that moment. The most insidious distraction is when I’m working on a piece when suddenly inspiration strikes… for a different piece. With several series in the works, this can be very compelling.

That is when a different kind of discipline comes in. It’s one thing to get yourself into the chair to write. It’s another thing to focus and work toward the completion of a piece, any piece, especially when all your deadlines are self-assigned. I practice writing drills to help me stay on task and for the day when I have an editor, making deadlines a much less flexible thing. When the voices of different characters, different worlds, start to compete, I jot down notes with brief descriptions and maybe snippets of description or dialogue if it’s just too good to let drift away. If I’m not in a place or at a time when I can do that, I just have to let it go.

In the end, art is ephemeral. That is part of what makes it precious.

Ebb and Flow

Writing every day is a wonderful habit to cultivate. I work hard to make the time, to show the discipline to make it happen. Sometimes, though, I need to let go of that expectation.

Life is busy and curve-balls can come out of nowhere. It’s important to make a consistent practice of writing. It’s also important to know when to push away from the page and give that time, energy, and attention to your life. The writing will always be there, and if you don’t have a deadline hanging over your head, sometimes you need to give yourself a break.

This isn’t an excuse to treat your writing like it isn’t the challenging and joyous work that it is or to procrastinate endlessly. This is just reality. Writers have homes, relationships, day-jobs, and bodies that need upkeep. Sometimes urgently, sometimes one after another, and sometimes even all at once.

During these difficult times, I find that the time I can eke out for writing becomes even more important. I might not be at the keyboard every day, but I can retreat into my stories when I get a spare moment here and there. And it helps me appreciate my work both for myself and for others.

Stories can be a wonderful respite from the vagaries and challenges of life. If my readers can escape for even a few moments, just like I escape into my stories, and come out on the other side refreshed and ready to tackle their problems again, it’s a good thing.

Thinking Outside Yourself

Lately, the summer sky has been filled with enormous fluffy white clouds. High altitude winds sometimes stack them into floating skyscrapers. I’ve been watching them as much as I can, imprinting them in my memory to call up when my mind gets stuck in the details of living. It’s made me realize just how much I exist in my mind, in screens, and in words. I sometimes forget that words are a tool I use to communicate experiences and feelings. Without tuning in to my own experiences and the feelings they evoke, there’s nothing for my words to reflect. My writing will be as empty as an echo. These clouds are visceral. Staring at them, I can feel their softness, the cool moisture they contain. I notice the sun catching in their edges and making them glow, then feel it hitting my own skin and warming me. I remember that there is a huge and beautiful world outside of me, that I exist within it, moving through it, and only truly experiencing it when I stop and give myself the time to pay attention.