- I try to write in the early AM (circa 5:00) simply because I’m up early (even earlier), but only if I’m moved by something I’m reading or looking at (like art, online), or the birds, or the Organs I see every day. I have a romantic impetus, trying never to force anything as I did when younger. I can write in crowds, open spaces, in cars, but I prefer a closed office room or library work-study room. But something has to hit me, an image or phrase, or piece of music. Unlike others, I do no due-diligence; if nothing comes, I’m busy with less esoteric enterprises. This old-school, romantic view of “work,” to be transported, is not for everyone. I try from an initial impulse to get a draft, hand written usually on flat, cheap napkins; I may add stuff in my old-school “notebook”/Steno pad from Walmart in basic red, blue, or green and white in barely legible handwriting. I then play with the draft on the computer, making small or large changes in succeeding drafts if I feel something is there, cutting, tightening, making more precise word choices, etc. I try to work the “literariness” out of it; if I can’t, what’s there can’t be resuscitated.
- I’ve sometimes had a love-not-so-loving affair with the muse; at some periods in my life I did no poetry, concentrating on academic writing which actually helped me put matters into perspective. I studied Philosophy & Comp. Langs. and Lits., and so I’m pretty well grounded. All good writers are invariably good readers and in love with what they’ve read copiously. I was always impressed by my poetic betters. Another outlet was going to non-academic readings of which there were many that left an indelible mark on me and others (Bly & Wright together, Josip Brodsky, Creeley going through almost a full pack of Marlboro Reds [please, kids, don’t do this at home], Levertov, Kinnell, Sexton, too many others to mention. Like anything else, going to a museum, ballgame, concert transcends the online or reading experience. That can always be done.
- I came to CW programs only after I had worked on my own and then published stuff. (I wrote lots of really embarrassing stuff; sometimes I read back over them and laugh.) The best programs involve incisive criticism, with colleagues who’ve actually read your stuff. Poets have glass jaws; we take things really to heart; fiction writers tend to accept workshops better; they want to see how things work structurally or whether a character really speaks like that or is developed or is just a ficelle. I prefer not teaching undergrad and graduate CW courses, particularly with poets. It’s like walking barefoot on glass, both from the “instructor” and writer standpoint. For me, an hour-and-a-half or three-hour course is emotionally draining. Angst is always in the air.
- I still try to work out almost every day, but mostly indoors now because the very abrasive SW and Asian suns and I don’t get along; treadmill, some weights, mountain hiking, but less so now.
- Like Picasso, the best thing about the writing process isn’t even finishing, but, as for him, the very next poem (or painting).
- Artists and writers have the same advice; you’re going to get rejections, be misunderstood, or are just not good enough— yet. If you’re serious, keep at it, grind away imitating, working at varying styles and structures, until (forgive the cliché), you find your voice(s) and you don’t have to try and sound like the best writer in your class or assimilate his or her subject matters. Cliché #2, write from your own experience, even if you don’t have much. We’ve all been there and what, for most, is essentially a lonely (and often, fruitless) vocation. “I love it,” iterates Hannibal Smith even in reruns, “when a plan comes together.”
- I believe in karma, luck (and I’ve had plenty). Don’t worry about being published so quickly. You’ll throw away lots of crap but in just writing it light sometimes turns up, as for The Dead, in “the strangest of places.”
- All of the things I’ve said have been said billions of times (and better, and more formally). There’s no panacea. It depends, as with anything, whether you want it or not. For me, I stand with Sidney in Astrophil and Stella, “Look in your heart and write.”