Describe your creative space. Do you work at home, in public spaces, etc.?
I write sitting on a bench in the wetlands, a museum, or a Mexican park; at an outside table at the Morton Arboretum; on a pew in an Italian church, or a stump in the woods; standing in front of a painting at the Art Institute; and riding the commuter train into Chicago. I do a lot of my writing at Panera (alone or with friends), where I can fill my mug with Hazelnut coffee as often as I wish, and I don’t hear my landline phone ring.
What kind of materials do you use? Do you write by hand or type? What is your favorite writing utensil?
Inspiration seems to flow most readily though pencils into spiral notebooks. I prefer pencils to pens because I lose good pens, and the disposable ones bad for the environment. Most of my editing is done on the computer. I often make changes as I type the first draft.
What is your routine for writing?
I wish I had one.
How long have you been writing? When did you start writing?
I wrote poetry when I was young. Having had great instruction in English at Iowa City High School, I passed a placement test which fulfilled the English requirement at American U. I made the mistake of not taking any English classes, and not writing poetry. When I was first married, I published a few poems, but while we were raising five active children, I didn’t make time for writing. Two things contributed to my becoming a serious poet. One was that my oldest grandchild had a painful, degenerative genetic disease and died shortly before her seventh birthday. I needed some way to express my feelings. The happy coincidence was that I was asked to volunteer as a curriculum counselor at the Green Lake Conference Center for about three weeks each summer for a number of years. The program director wanted me to attend conferences while I was there, including the writer’s conference. Those conferences helped me to hone my skills in poetry.
What inspires you to write? If you are blocked, what do you do?
I find the inspiration to write in many places: a painting or sculpture, a news event, a childhood memory, poetry by others. Flipping through the pages of a family photo album can also spark a poem or two. Perhaps my most dependable source of inspiration when I feel blocked is a book of good poetry; I find a poem to respond to, or a line to write from.
What other things do you do besides writing? Do you dance or play golf, etc.?
My favorite activity, besides spending time with family members, is travel. I also like to walk in the woods or wetlands, on the beach or the river walk. I take continuing education classes at The Newberry Library in Chicago—and use what I learn there (or what I read for class)—as inspiration for poems. I teach an adult Sunday School class, and sometimes write a poem inspired by what we discuss there.
What is your favorite part of the creative process?
I prefer the writing to submitting and keeping records, but that is probably true of all poets (a secretary and filing clerk would make my life easier!). The best time is when the poem takes charge and leads me in an unexpected direction. That is one reason I experiment with different forms. The rules often take me somewhere I had not intended to go, and would not have gone had I been writing free verse.
The camaraderie of small groups where we write together, and critique each other respectfully, is nurturing and fulfilling.
What is your advice to aspiring writers?
Read, read, read. Write in different genres and forms. Consider spending time writing rhymed and metered poems before you write a lot of free verse. It gives you practice in cadence and musicality. When I first tried writing sonnets, the results were terrible. I decided to read sonnets (and only sonnets) every day for several weeks. That got the meter of the sonnet in my head. My next attempts didn’t read like Shakespeare, but they were not unmitigated disasters, either.
I strongly advise aspiring writers to find or create a small group composed of people you trust and respect, people who will give you honest feedback and encouragement, and applaud your successes (and not be jealous), and for whom you can do the same. You can write together or meet regularly to critique and encourage each other.