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On a Sunday evening

On this particular Sunday evening, I am about to put my pajamas on and sit down with a book. Not just any book, but a book about writing. I have been reading two of them of late, both of them excellent. They are:

Views from a Window Seat, by Jeannine Atkins, about which I have posted before, but the book is so good it bears mentioning again. Jeannine captures the ups and downs of the writing life beautifully, and often makes me think of my own work in new ways. You can't really ask for more than that, right?

Here's a nice bit from her chapter entitled "Chariots and Clouds":

. . . I often write from the outside-in rather than staying stuck wihtin a character's unclear heart or mind. What does she see, hear, smell, touch? Everything else may come to us as if glimpsed through a telescope, felt through mittens, or muffled by the bellows of an over-serious vocabulary. There's hardly a writer alive who hasn't been advised to show-not-tell. Most of us crave specifics such as the crunch of pomegranate seeds or the sting of a twisted ankle. We like the scent of an old creased love letter as much as the words. When I'm foiled by plot, I look, listen, or sniff around the rooms or land stored in my imagination. What kind of floor is under my protagonist's feet? What kind of table is under her pale brown hands? . . .

The other book is Ted Kooser's marvelous The Poetry Home Repair Manual: Practical Advice for Beginning Poets, which I am rereading. But Kelly, you might say, you're at least a little past "beginning poet", aren't you? Well . . . maybe. I mean, probably, but the information in this book is great for poets of all skill levels. For instance, just the other morning, I read this nugget of wisdom that really made me stop to think about some of my poems and why they might not resonate with some readers:

  I've inadvertently written lots of poems that meant nothing to anybody else, and I've mailed those poems to editors from coast to coast, hoping that they would be published, only to realize when they were rejected that I'd written them just for myself. I'd been delighted by what I'd written but I hadn't thought enough about the person reading them. For all that my efforts came to I might have saved the postage and humiliation and posted the poems on my refrigerator door like . . . well, grocery lists.

  You too will accidentally write poms just for yourself from time to time, spending hours on work that nobody but you has any interest in. When that happens, it may be that you haven't thought enough about the people on the other end of the communication. You choose what to write and how to write it, but if you want to earn an audience for your work, you need to think about the interests, expectations, and needs of others, as well as how you present yourself to them.

This week has been interesting for me. For four of the five weekdays, and yesterday as well, I managed to sit down for an hour (I set a timer) and focus on writing. It has been revelatory, in that I've discovered I've written a number of poems that have some promise, though nearly all of them require revision (some of them require a complete rewrite). They have all been written since January 1, 2014 as part of my poetry diary, an idea for which I owe Laura Purdie Salas a great deal of thanks. Now that I am mostly settled in, I am also starting to think of getting back to work on other projects as well. And to think about the idea and process of writing, and the writing life. Which brings me to these wonderful
blog posts about the writing life that I discovered this week.

They include Bruce Black's marvelous post at Wordswimmer about the need to look beneath your pretty, well-crafted sentences and words to make sure that the story and structure are where they need to be. It's a fabulous post, entitled "Cracking Open Your Words".

Dani Shapiro's post, "On Letting Go", over at her website, which is about what happens when we get so caught up in everyday life that we forget to sit silently and breathe.

A post by Samantha Verant at her blog, Life, Love, Living in France (and that whole writing thang too...) entitled "Thoughts on a Tuesday: Live a BIG and BEAUTIFUL Life". It's about her decision to stop living "a small life", and overcoming her fears in order to do it. As part of her post, I was led to:

"How a tiny dog helped me overcome a big fear" from Torre DeRoche, who blogs at "The Fearful Adventurer: A blog about fear, love, art, and adventure". It talks about how she slowly lost her fear of walking out in the world - anywhere in the world, really - as a result of having a dog to walk. It reads well as fact, and also as metaphor for whatever is holding you back in life.

I've been wanting to share these items with you, and now I have gone and done it. Before I go get my jim-jams on, I will share with you the two new writing books that I purchased for myself yesterday with a Barnes & Noble gift card. They are The True Secret of Writing: Connecting Life with Language by Natalie Goldberg and Still Writing: The Perils and Pleasures of a Creative Life by Dani Shapiro. I can hardly wait to start them. (And might not. Wait, that is.)

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( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 31st, 2014 12:29 am (UTC)
Thank you for taking some precious Sunday evening pre-pajama time to write about these books. I'm happy you like mine so much, and am also a huge fan of and always recommending to poets of all levels Ted Kooser's book. I also liked Dani Shapiro's new book, and at some point I'll get to this one by Natalie Goldberg, who's taught me so much with her others. And those blog links! Like you, I like going to these books when inspiration or stamina flags, and the best part is when I put them down and write. Thanks, Kelly!
Mar. 31st, 2014 09:04 pm (UTC)
I am really enjoying your book, Jeannine, and recommend every chance I get! And I'm looking forward to my two new books. Hope you enjoyed those blog posts!
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Apr. 1st, 2014 03:55 pm (UTC)
There is plenty in Ted Kooser's book for beginners that is actually advanced stuff, or information you don't get elsewhere, so it is a treat to re-read it now and again for pointers. (I have a few other poetry books from poets, including one from Mary Oliver and another by Frances Mayes, and I enjoy going through them. It's like a private master class!
Apr. 1st, 2014 04:04 pm (UTC)
It's kind of like a private master class - his book includes lots of tips and pointers not found elsewhere, and not necessarily for beginners.
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