By Keith Wilson
I write. A lot. Sometimes other writers (poets especially) hope someday for this; they express a desire to write, and often. Naturally, right? What could be wrong with writing copiously?
But when someone asks me how I do it, sit down and force myself to write a poem(even when I don’t wanna), I can’t find it in myself to say that they ought to do the same. I’ll let them know what I do, but I’m also loathe to say that they should feel bad about the amount of time they spend writing. At least, not comparatively. I mean, do I regret the amount of time I personally spend alone with words? Not at all. But more and more I am beginning to realize that writing is as personal an act as poems are reflections of their creators. What, really, can I say that applies so universally as to make it advice instead of circumstantial happenstance (coincidentally, the name of my band, if I ever learn to play the guitar. Circumstantial Happenstance).
Young writers especially love to ask about process. To compare their actions to those of a master, like one might watch baseball or boxing reels to study form. Just try to watch an interview with a Toni Morrison without someone asking how she writes (never just for the sake of writing, as it turns out. She must be feeling it, so to speak). For me, I’ve realized that staring at a blank screen is a cyclical, self-feeding monster so I refuse to do that. And yes, I do all my writing now on a computer. It’s not romantic, but then, neither was a pen back when bards memorized all their work and sang it. It’ll be romantic some day. Sigh.
So for me, the first step is to just begin writing. Call it free-writing, except that I am comfortable enough now to know what part of my gibberish is not worth saving and needs to remain gibberish, and which part of it needs to immediately become the poem. There are days when it takes some starting, but I can jump right into it like I never could years ago. I have conditioned myself to write through people yelling on the bus, or in half an hour between unloading boxes from a truck, or WHILE loading a truck, in quick spats on a piece of cardboard. This is the kind of process I think writers with children would love to tap into, but do they really? I will not claim that the poems I write between the lines of work are masterpieces, not even when compared only to the rest of my work. Nor is actual work I’m being paid for ever greatly improved by my decided lack of attention.
It is my personalized process. One crafted by a poet who cares not for his (now former) minimum wage paying jobs and who is unafraid of writing, for an entire month, complete garbage, so long as he continues to write. I want to ask, sometimes, when someone wants to write consistently: “Are you okay with writing what should never be published?” If the answer is no, I can’t argue with them. They’re looking for a different process than I am involved in.
Granted it does not hurt to ask about process. I’m sure there are people who have been helped, and I admit that it is interesting to me as well. But I think, especially with new writers, we get hung up either on having a process handed to us, or in validating our own process, which really, this is the sort of thing that we learn entirely on our own through trial and error. Maybe it’s like cooking. Reading a cookbook, listening close to your grandma, watching the Food Network. There are some things to learn, but if that’s where you spend your time, you will find that when it comes time to actually cook, you can’t even peel an onion. But even this is wrong, because there is a ‘right’ way to do certain things. Schools that teach you the proper way to chop celery, and methods that just cannot be avoided if you want the bread to rise. This is chemistry and science, not poetry.
All this is to say that perhaps there is no process. Only poets.