Being a writer, I think a lot about both the writing process and writing practice. I have realized over the past year, how these things fluctuate and my views about both shift and change.
When I was first writing and sending my work out, in my early 20’s, I wrote more prolifically than I do now, but absolutely refused to edit. I thought that editing would taint the feeling of my poems, that the emotion that went into writing them couldn’t be reignited during an editing process. At the time, it made perfect sense, but now I realize I was, just slightly, full of shit. There may be some people who can write something perfectly the first time and never have to edit; I am just not one of those people. I also realize that I had to go through that phase as a writer, to allow my process and practice to evolve according to my own creative needs. During that time, I wrote when I felt inspired and didn’t really worry about it when I wasn’t writing. I got a few things published, and then I stopped writing, for 20 years.
When I began dipping my fingers back into the ink, I discovered,, not only how important, but how exciting the editing process can be. I edit like crazy (some may say too much), and I think, some of my best writing happens during the editing. For me, the editing is where the crafting of a poem happens. I have some poems that have been through so many edits, the original versions are a whisper of what the published poems grew into. My usual practice is to let a rejected poem sit for a while and then return to it for editing, even if it has been edited a hundred times before. It has taken me years to finish some poems, others not so long, and occasionally, I only edit a piece once or twice and patiently (not always) wait for it to find a home, or allow it to remain dormant. I have discovered that I have to be true to my creative process in order to stay engaged with my own work.
When I got serious about writing again, started submitting and getting published, I adopted the idea that a writer needs to write every day. I thought that what made me a writer was the act of writing, but the problem was that it led me to feeling like an utter failure when I wasn’t writing. I started beating myself up for not being disciplined enough, for not producing enough. I needed to find the space in-between complete abandon and complete structure. I needed to forgive myself for the lulls.
If you are at all familiar with my writing, you know that I tend to write about painful things. This has always been the direction my creativity has swayed and I am good with that; it is what I need, want and choose to write about. But, it took me until recently to really understand that, because I write about things that are painful, I need to step away from the words sometimes. I recently finished a poem that was very difficult for me to write and really zapped my energy. After I submitted it, I found myself unable to put any words together….I started playing the old tapes of what a failure I am….and then a light went on. No one can live with pain and ghosts all of the time. It isn’t healthy. So, I stepped away, knowing that I will find inspiration and energy when I am ready for it, when I feel strong enough to commune with those ghosts again.
I am not suggesting that my process and practice are the right ones; they are simply what works for me, for the time being. They have changed and may change again. I think the important thing is that we all find our own process and practice. Some writers produce 50 poems a month, some are lucky to get 20 out in a year. Some writers produce a novel every year, some 1 in every 10. None of it matters, as long as we are being true to our creative selves and looking out for our own emotional wellbeing. Being a writer is wonderful and fulfilling, but it is also really hard. If writing every day works for you, terrific! If you need to take a few months off, take them. What I know for sure, is that if you are a writer, the words will always come back to you. Forgive yourself for the lulls.