One of the most common questions I’m asking when I do Q&A sessions at the end of performances or workshops is, “What is your writing process like?” It’s always all I can do not to burst out laughing.
This is what my writing process looks like.
- Get in the car and start driving, usually in between a meeting and a yoga class or rushing to get back to the other side of town before traffic gets bad.
- Get struck with a brilliant flash of genius while weaving in between two semis.
- Surreptitiously pull out your phone and voice-to-text your idea into a note, hoping that it looks like you’re navigating on the Maps app to any cops who happen to pass by.
- Go home. Wait 3-6 months.
- When the idea has had time to grow up a little bit, pull the note back up and begin to type furiously.
- Write the end of the poem first. Then the beginning, then the middle. Cut whole sections out by the time you’ve finished because you decided they just aren’t “on brand enough.”
- Pour yourself a glass of wine and question why you are concerned about branding in the first place.
- Don’t edit a thing. As Titus Andromedon says, “I am as God made me.” Your poem is as you made it.
- Quietly start workshopping the poem at open mics where no one knows you just in case it falls flat on its face.
- By the time you’ve recorded it and put it out for the general consumption of the public, you have probably changed about your mind about 65% of the beliefs contained therein, but oh well, time only moves in linear, forward fashion for us mere mortals.
I wish I was making any of that up.
If you don’t see where I’m going with this yet, here are 3 ways you definitely shouldn’t write poetry.
1. Don’t write poetry like anybody else writes poetry.
My way works for me! And frankly, I’m probably the only person on that planet that it works for. The key to writing good poetry, or good anything, isn’t to copy the techniques or processes of someone else, but to figure out the groove that works for you. Most writing advice I’ve read makes me want to pull my hair out. In my experience, people write writing advice like they write marriage advice—it’s all essentially autobiography. This is what worked for me, so OBVIOUSLY it’ll work for everyone else! But that’s seldom ever the case. Now, that’s not to say there’s not broad sweeping generalizations that can be made that are somewhat helpful—carving some space out to write everyday, for example, or writing with minimal distractions like children or puppies or a Bota Box of wine or reruns of Keeping Up With The Kardashians (don’t you judge me). But at the end of the day you have to take those broad sweeping generalizations, implement what serves you, forget what doesn’t, and carve out your own little creative space in the world.
2. Don’t edit, or do. Whatever.
I remember early on as a writer feeling ashamed because I seldom if ever edited my poetry. The first draft was the only draft. I had read all of this advice about how if you don’t edit your work, what you’re writing is probably crap and it could be so much better and blah blah blah. I felt like I had just translated an amazing message from The Universe… and now you’re telling me I probably heard it wrong? But that’s how *I* felt. Some people love editing their work! Some people take great comfort from the fact that their first draft is just that—a first draft—and they’ll have the opportunity to smooth out the edges later. For me, if it doesn’t come out right the first time, I can’t just edit the rough edges away. I usually have to start over from the top, maybe keeping a good line or two from the original attempt, and approach the poem from a whole different angle. But that’s okay, and it’s okay if you work in the complete opposite way! Whether or not to edit your poetry in any kind of systematic way after you write it is a personal decision that’s completely up to you.
3. Don’t believe the lie that you have nothing to say to the world.
In all seriousness—no matter who you are, you have something to say and do that can contribute to the sum total of justice, beauty and goodness in the world. Don’t fall prey to the trap of thinking that there’s only so much creativity to go around—that someone else expressing theirs means there’s less for you, or that you expressing yours means there’s less for someone else. Learning to trust in an abundant God and an abundant universe is a process but it’s the only way we can move forward. Competition, resentment, and inequality breed under the assumption of a scarce world.
What is your writing process like? Let me know in the comments and let’s celebrate all the beautiful, diverse and often-weird ways we make art.