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The Writing Life: A Testament to Daily Writing

2014 February 11
by Liz Lampman

The Writing Life

1484161_10152070709534098_290624239_nI wrote a poem every day in January. And I’m still surprised that I can say that I did that. I’ve tried before, believe me. Other months, my journal started out strong with daily efforts until day ten, or eight, or… yes, four. There are a number of factors which made me successful this time, and I’m grateful for each of those, but I think it’s important (mostly for me) to acknowledge that I wrote a poem a day for 30 days. This post is about what made that possible for me. And guess what, if I can do it, you can do it too!

As we discussed here on The Writing Life earlier in January, the independent publisher Tupelo Press coordinates the 30/30 Project every month. Writers volunteer to take on the challenge of writing a poem every day for thirty days and, in so doing, raise funds for Tupelo Press from their friends, family, and personal networks. The poems are posted daily, here. Inspired by the opportunity to support a great press and looking forward to a challenge, I took on the project as a way to kick-start 2014.

On day one, I felt great! Like a poet-superstar! By day two, I was frantic with pen in hand at 9 pm, clueless about what to write. I wrote a bad poem. And the next day, chastised by my own self-criticism, I sought a way to release myself from self-scrutiny. In so doing, I ended up writing my first ever ars poetica. Excerpted here:

Sit back from wit:

no pen is clever.

You may be a house plant

or, if you choose, a cup of steam.

(From “Ars Poetica I” by Elizabeth Eva Lampman, first seen on the Tupelo Press 30/30 Project page, day 3.)

It may have been my favorite poem of the month, but more importantly, after that point I felt released and free to explore the challenge on my own terms and on my own whims! My next realization, was that I was used to shutting out ideas that I thought were “not interesting enough.” Instead, I let myself write through all of my ideas and it turned out that some of my rawest impulses became poems that I appreciated very much. The moral of the story, don’t cock-block your ideas.

Once my daily regimen was, more or less, developed, I realized just how permeable the membrane is between my immediate reality and my writing. I focused more on concrete details and settings than emotionality; I’ve been learning that emotions can be effectively conveyed without “I feel” statements. This practice also allowed me to recognize what truly inspired me. For instance, one day I happened along the Tin House blog post about a sentence-long poem… and I’ve probably written at least three single-sentence poems since then. And why not? It seems to me, that allowing obsession, allowing repetition, and embracing inspiration make the writing process all the more exciting! Obsessions are interesting, and I figure that if I’m ruminating, I must be trying to get at something. What about the obsessions that don’t work… the ideas that fall flat… the BAD poems, you ask? Well, by writing them I still learn something. And, whatsmore, I can’t expect all of my ideas to be genius, so I guess I just that I need to have more ideas!

At the end of January, I not only had 31 new poems, but I’d given my writing process much more intentional thought. Toward the end of the month, I came up with a list of tips, based on my understanding of writing poetry. (This was seen first on the Tupelo Press 30/30 Project page, day 29.)

On Poetry / by Elizabeth Eva Lampman

  1. Writing takes time.

  2. Sit down to write—after moving, stop moving.

  3. Move—after being still, move.

  4. You do not need good handwriting.

  5. Length is not important.

  6. Define the following words: cliche, diction, rhetorical, concrete, convention.

  7. At first, avoid scenes with sunsets, roses. (See number 6.)

  8. Write everything.

  9. There are no rules.

  10. There are some rules, but they are less important than writing poems.

  11. Release yourself from scrutiny. Writing is difficult and even more so with a judgmental devil on the corner of your page.

  12. Bad writing is better than not writing at all.

  13. There’s no penalty for writing a “bad” poem.

  14. Do not edit as you go. Let your impulses and language be as expansive as possible.

  15. Express the poem with language and structure BEFORE adding punctuation.

  16. Punctuation should clarify, not complicate, the poem.

  17. Listen to the sound of the words you choose,

  18. and make note of the words you like.

  19. Be hesitant to use emotional adjectives; let the tone, shape, and images tell the reader about feelings.

  20. Archive all versions of your work.

  21. Engage with the work in as many ways as are possible. Draw it. Perform it. Handwrite it. Type it. Read it out loud!

  22. Sleep on it—take a break between revisions.

  23. If you’re stuck, read someone else’s poem.

  24. Be aware of what you’re asking the reader to do, but

  25. don’t worry about pleasing the reader.

  26. Let the poem create it’s own reality with its own laws and conventions.

  27. There is an infinite number of poems to be written; its up to you to discover how many of them are up to you to write.

So… can you do it? Can you commit to writing daily? If you take it on, I encourage you to hold yourself accountable in some way. Send your poems to someone, print them out… do whatever it takes! Write on.