I wanted to share with you my process in creating a collection of poems, which I think will translate to those who are writing fiction or nonfiction. In those cases, instead of poems, place the major ideas of your book or short scenes.
As I am writing a collection of poetry, I write about 15 poems with no mind at all for order or how they will play off of one another. I write what has to be written at the time. I print those poems out, walk around the room reading them, make drastic changes. I take out my blue pen, and kill my darling lines before rewriting. Once I feel like I have a good stack from which to work, I take to my journal.
When I’m on a writing residency, which is where I get most of my poetic work done, I write in a journal (online or on the page) just about every day. I write about what I’ve written, themes that I am starting to see, how they might be connected to one another. I write about other ideas for poems, snippets from conversations that I have heard. I go back to my journal and my notes about other poets. I have a habit of writing down the lines that move me. I write about how that one line worked within the context of that poem, how I could affect an audience in a similar way in my poem, if I made this change or made a narrative or lyric turn earlier or later. I go back to the names of the poems, thinking through how they might be connected and what the holes in those connections might be, thematically.
That’s when things get fun. I generally travel to writing residencies with some tools: computer, pens (I personally like gel, but I’ll take the cheap hotel variety. Blue is my favorite color ink.), a journal or two (I usually finish one while I’m at a residency), a few inspiration books of poetry, a coil of wire, push pins, and a whole box of medium and small binder clips. The last three may be the strangest in my tool kit, so I will explain. I am a visual thinker. My journals are filled with diagrams and sketches. When I am trying to compose a manuscript of poems, I need more space than my journal can provide, so I take over windows.
I discovered the window technique on a residency at the Macdowell Colony. I happened to have brought the wire to make jewelry and the binder clips to hold all of my print outs together. The pushpins I had, because I was a poet in schools (about 5) at the time, though I didn’t use these until a later residency. I happened to keep teaching supplies in my trunk.
The cottage where I stayed had these gorgeous, large windows, with nobs at the edges. I wound the wire tight around the nobs on both sides, used the binder clips to hang the pages from the wire. What I especially loved about this technique was that I could 1) see the poems from a distance (their length, width, how they moved in space and 2) move the poems to different places as I added poems to fill the thematic or emotional holes.
*Side note: having an understanding of how I compose a manuscript is probably going to totally change how you read my books. I’m eager to hear if you make any new discoveries that way.
At the Vermont Studio Center, I found the use of the pushpins. There was a bulletin board that I could use. I will use this technique in a pinch, but with the amount of poems that I am working with, I have to put the pins at the corners. It’s impossible to really see how the poems play on the page and how they work together that way. It’s also a pain to move around.
While at the Tyrone Guthrie Centre, I had a writing space that was big enough to use the floor. I placed the printed pages there, and moved them around. Not my favorite technique as I had to sit on the floor, surrounded by poems, to read them again and see how they worked. Also, doing this layout on carpet and attempting to edit was difficult. The pen just goes through the page. Easily resolved by working in pencil, but I am clumsy and rough on things. While other artists can use a pointed pencil tip to write and the markings are never smudged, my work with a pencil might as well be a charcoal drawing of an amoeba by the time I’m done editing. Still, for those that have the space and the delicate touch (or a wooden floor), this might be one to consider.
- What is your revision process? And how do you integrate that revision process with your active consideration of how to write the book, if that is your aim?
- How do you compose a manuscript of your work? What techniques will you use?
- If you designate a writing time or go on a writing residency, what tools must you have with you to be effective? Clothes can be washed, but it’s harder to get wire on a residency. Admittedly, it would be a weird conversation. Where can I find some light gauge wire? or Will you give me a ride to a hardware store? I need something for my writing.