Monthly Archives: December 2013

The Catch-22 of Writing

It is a truth universally known among writers: we need time and money to write. These things rarely show up together, and sometimes, even when they do, they don’t. The cliche of the poor writer up in a freezing attic isn’t entirely false. Overall, writers don’t make much, and poets starve.

My day job is teaching, and no–my life is not an object lesson in the old fallacy that says those who can do, and those who can’t teach. I can do both, and I do do both. One pays more, but it isn’t the most stable of arrangements. It comes in four-month blocks or it doesn’t, and those blocks sometimes aren’t set until the last minute.

In the mix of uncertainty, is the grant application, made months before the proposed project period. So, we cast our bread upon the waters and wait to see what happens. Fling that net as hard and far as we can and then clench every muscle we have waiting to see what it brings. Sometimes nothing.

But sometimes, teaching and grant both. I’m not crazy, so I’m not saying no to anything. If money comes, take it. Then, sit and stare at the calendar, wondering how to pluck some days and weeks for the writing. That is my current predicament. I’ll be able to pay the rent (hurray), and I have a deadline by which I must submit a report on the grant (eek).

It’s like pulling my fingers through a bowl of buttons, each button representing a day, looking for the buttons that have a WRITE symbol on them. If I can get enough of them in a row, I win. Writing is a gamble in so many ways. In every way.

What I know for certain is that there are thirty poems to get written. Thirty. It is ludicrous to think I can do that in two weeks in June. Ludicrous to think I can do that in all of June. But then, writing is nothing if not ludicrous.

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Experiment with Something New

I’ve always said that I am not a novelist, that I don’t have a novel in me. I’m a poet. But, lately, I’ve been thinking about trying something new. When I was an undergraduate, I wrote stage plays and screenplays. My very first attempt at writing was a novel (I was twelve and wrote a page). Prose isn’t entirely alien to me: I’ve written loads of non-fiction, including three book-length biographies. And, I’ve written a book-length poem. Mash all of that together and I wonder what I’ve got.

Writing prose has always struck me as work for more patient people. I am not a patient person. All that plotting and characterization. I’ve always felt more of a single-speaker, single-moment kind of writer. The short lyric poem. I love economy of words, perfect word choices, tight construction. Sharp and incisive with a punch. When I took on The Hungry Grass and realized it wanted to be a long poem, and not a collection of lyrics, I headed into uncharted territory. I really didn’t know if I could do it, and maybe that’s the whole secret. I didn’t know if I could, but I set out anyway. I’ve done that a lot in my life. The BA. The MA. The PhD. I really didn’t know if I could do any of it.

For no reason that I know of, the idea of writing a novel has surfaced again. It has done this a few times, and I toy with it, and then I shelve it. I think, “The gods didn’t make me a novelist.” Perhaps I need to take the suggestion more seriously. Or, more lightly. Maybe I should stop thinking of it as such serious business and just start playing with ideas. Maybe I should give myself an assignment. When I first wrote a stage play, it was an assignment in my drama intro class. Thank you Dr. Tyson. When I first wrote a screenplay, it was an assignment in my creative writing intro class. Thank you Prof. Oordt. Those projects have never seen the light of day since I left university, but that’s not the point. The point is that those forms were unfamiliar and uncomfortable to me as a writer, and if they hadn’t been assigned, I might never have experimented with them.

Maybe I should experiment with something new. Maybe I should just set out.

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Filed under On Thinking, On Writing