Writing Unplugged

One of my favorite (or at least most rewarding) things to do is spend an entire morning on my deck working on an essay, researching, and reading books. I love the cool breeze paired with my hot coffee. I love the natural light and the surrounding wildlife. I like when big, dozy bumble bees hover around me, mistaking my floral dress for actual flowers.

This past weekend, I broke out my typewriter and was even visited by a good friend of mine (yes, she’s a chicken, and shortly after this photo was taken she began to peck at my bruises).

JJTypewriter It felt so nice to be outside, surrounded by fresh air. This was on Saturday, and I challenged myself to stay away from my computer until 5:00 pm. Only then could I check my email, update my blog, or check the Sunday weather forecast. If I wanted to check a fact or look up a word, I was forced to put it off or use a dictionary. It was liberating.

Although I rarely check my phone and can easily go entire weekends without the internet, I do find that it can sometimes be a challenge to resist the lure of the internet, even while I’m writing. It’s become so easy to look up sources, to check my facts, to read reviews of a book I’m studying. These are great things. But it’s also easy to fall into dangerous habits, like taking multiple Facebook breaks, watching mind-numbing Youtube videos, and scrolling through the Twitter feeds of total strangers.

Writing unplugged from the internet, either in notebooks or on a typewriter, is absolutely liberating. Picking up a dictionary and carefully learning a new word is an activity I cherish, and marking my reading with sticky notes instead of browser tabs is a great habit.

From now on, I’m going to challenge myself to do the bulk of my weekend writing on my typewriter or in my old Moleskine. I’m more productive when I’m not enticed by the web, and I find that I don’t look for the easy way out of questions. If I want to know why Eliot quoted Baudelaire, I don’t type it into a search engine… I go pick up The Flowers of Evil.

Here’s to a more productive, more liberating summer!



Poets are real things – Go see them

It’s true. Poets are alive. They breathe, they eat, they slave away at their typewriters (what decade is this?) to make their soul-thoughts into real, tangible things we can hold in our hands, and spill coffee on. Sometimes, poets get up in front of people and say personal things about themselves, and read their poetry to strangers. Actually, they’re doing this a lot, and you should go watch them while they do it and maybe buy a book, and inconspicuously touch them shoe-to-shoe while they kindly write something silly in your copy like “good luck on YOUR poems.”

I started going to poetry readings in college, and got so hooked on them that I’m now willing to drive hours just to see poets I haven’t even read. The thing about writing is that it is highly personal… It’s something you do on your own, and sometimes, when you’re sitting in a dark room and contemplating how eerie it is that onions continue sprouting even in your pantry, it’s easy to forget that there are people out there doing exactly (well, probably not exactly…) the same thing you are. Sometimes I wonder if my writing lifestyle is disciplined enough, or if I spend enough time editing, or if any of it will ever get any easier. Listening to other poets read and talk about their work and lifestyle always inspires me, because it reminds me that there aren’t any real answers to these questions. Everyone is different.

Writers don’t just read their work… They answer questions, they tell us about their writing life. A couple of things I’ve learned:

Sofia Starnes is a ritualistic writer who takes a few quiet hours at night to work, but doesn’t write when she’s traveling.

And it’s normal for Tracy K. Smith to take breaks from writing poetry.

Yet, all the advice is telling us we need to practice our art everysingledaynoexceptionswhatesoever. Just do what works for you.

And what’s more, listening to poets read their work, on wonderful, rare occasions, can be so powerful that you forget to breathe for entire stanzas. Who wouldn’t drive a few hours for that?


Why buy a Moleskine when napkins exist?

The cool thing about having writing as a passion is that you can do it for FREE. As long as you have some sort of writing instrument (ink, charcoal, blood?), you can write till you totally deplete your imagination (which will be never). The world is full of things to write on… Receipts, napkins, skin, etcetcetcetcetc.

So, then, why on earth do I spend twenty bucks  each on extra large, soft cover, blank page Moleskine notebooks? Is it so that I can look like a snobby Ann Arborite next to my composition book-toting peers? [No]. Is it so that I can trick myself into only writing high quality poems that are worthy of the over-priced notebook? [No, and also it wouldn’t work anyway].

The thing is, I don’t know why, but it just feels… right to keep writing in the same notebook. It’s familiar. It’s comfortable. It has a nice weight to it. The soft cover bends in a way that feels like a hug when I hold it against my chest (I need more friends). Opening up my black notebook during lunch breaks and in my evenings after work is a ritual. It’s part of my routine. And for me, it works. Typing into a Word doc or writing on a loose leaf of paper just isn’t the same. And although I feel a bit snobbish paying for a notebook when I could easily use the back of my hand, I will say that filling up a journal has it’s merits, and buying a brand new one always presents itself to me like a challenge.

I think there are some definite benefits to finding materials that work well for you. And the more comfortable you are while writing, the longer you’re likely to write. Find what works, and do it.


Writing Garbage/ETC

I write everyday, but some days are harder than others. Some days I find myself churning out pages of inspired poetry… Other days I struggle to complete a single prompt. And still other days I barely write more than a journal entry. It’s a very novice writing life, and I sometimes get discouraged with myself, especially when I churn out pages and pages of overly personal poetry (it happens, okay). But I keep on writing. Even when my writing is trash, I keep going, and eventually I get out of my slump.

The act of writing poetry is often cathartic, and I find that my productivity increases when I’m feeling particularly emotional or “down.” I occasionally get into writing slumps. Sometimes I’m simply uninspired. There are days when I don’t feel like writing at all. And you know what? That’s okay …If you discipline yourself. Writing is work. Our passions are work. On those days when I don’t want to write, there are a few things I do to get the ink flowing:

  • Free Writing: When I’m feeling totally uninspired, I find free writing exercises to be of tremendous benefit. Set a timer for 15 or 20 minutes, grab a typewriter or reliable pen and paper, and just start writing. Don’t think about it. Just let your thoughts go and write out everything that comes to mind. Don’t be judgmental of your work. Just write. Look back at it in a couple of days. The noise in your mind may actually inspire some great writing.
  • Pick a Prompt: There are times when I tend to get a bit obsessed with a particular aspect of my life, and devote all of my creative energy to that one thing (ie. during my last semester of college, I was so emotional/stressed/anxious that nearly all of my poems hinted at my anxiety for the forthcoming change). Focusing on prompts is a great way to force yourself out of the bubble and into new territory.
  • Dear Diary… On those days when I simply can’t bring myself to write or revise a poem, I grab an old journal from my book shelf and just start scribbling. I find that just forcing myself into the act of writing can be beneficial, even if the subject matter is completely worthless. The following excerpt is from Feb. 8, 2012, for your reference: “Spring break is less than a month away. It would be cool if summer was less than a month away. But I shouldn’t wish time away. Away away away.” Yay, trash! But still, it’s writing. Total garbage writing… but writing.

The thing is, if you want to write good poetry, then by all means, just write when you’re feeling inspired. But if you want to write great poetry (I do!), then you need to do the work. It’s as simple as that. Stop spending time questioning your abilities as a writer. Just write! Write garbage. Write total trash. Even the worst poem ever written is still 100% better than no poem at all.