My Writing Process – Blog Tour

Step one: Acknowledge the person and site that involved you in the blog tour.

That's the wonderful — and busy! — Canadian poet, Pearl Pirie, whom I met online years ago when we both responded to a month of poetry challenges at John Hewett’s site, then known as Writer’s Resource Centre and now an extremely useful archive. Pearl's own blog tour astounded me just now, when I read about all of her activities! (And that's just the literary ones.)

Step two: Answer the 4 questions below about your writing process:

1) What am I working on? 

There are two collaborative poetry collections. The main one is a year-long collaboration with three other poets, Aussies Jennie Fraine and Helen Patrice, and Brit Michele Brenton. It's a renshi, a Japanese form consisting of a series of linked poems. As we write them, we're posting them on a blog, "Poems by the Followers", and our intention is to turn them into a book. I am already enthralled by the way this is developing. Some of the last lines can be quite a challenge for the next person to take as a starting point!

The other is also a collaboration with Helen and Jennie. In 2013 we all did a series of moon poems spanning a lunar month. We recently decided to choose the best to combine in a book: Three Cycles of the Moon. It has been compiled. Currently we're looking at ways to self-publish it as a e-book, and are seeking the right cover illustration.

I'm also working on a memoir about the experience of widowhood (my husband died in September 2012). That too is taking the form of a blog at present: The Widowhood Chronicles. Again, the plan is to turn it into a book, perhaps covering the first two years, which people say is the usual period of readjustment. 

I have poems on this subject as well, naturally, and have created a chapbook covering the first six months, which I am getting ready to submit to a publisher.

And I’m putting together a chapbook of poems I wrote (some in collaboration with others) for a somonka challenge issued by Robert Lee Brewer of Poetic Asides. A somonka is a pair of tanka, one responding to the other. One by American Bruce Niedt and me was runner-up in the competition and has been published in a recent issue of Writer’s Digest Magazine.

I have a memoir about the spiritual/magickal aspects of my life, again in blog form so far, but I find it hideously confronting to put that intimately personal stuff out there. (I’ll tell you about my sex life, my financial situation, my politics, but….) So I am discontinuing that blog and will be writing the stuff somewhat more privately until I think it’s ready to become a book.

2) How does my work differ from others of its genre? 

Only by being mine, in my voice and style. There's no huge, dramatic difference otherwise. I haven't reinvented the chapbook or the memoir.  And I write all kinds of poetry; I love to explore. 

The renshi project is unashamedly based on a similar book by four Hawaiian women poets, No Choice but to Follow(It's available in Kindle and paperback. Helen picked up a copy of the paperback on a trip to Hawaii and asked for collaborators for a similar project. I read the book while visiting her, and now own the Kindle edition.) Our imitation is meant as flattery, so our collection is likely to resemble more than it differs from theirs — except in some details, e.g. in our case three of us are Australians and one British, and we are not sponsored by a literary magazine as they were.

3) Why do I write what I do? 

Poetry's a vocation, the thing I can't not do. It began when I was a small child. I hope and trust it won't stop until I die. It sustains me. It is my comfort in sorrow and my companion in joy. Although I am on a low income, it makes me feel rich. 

I began the widowhood memoir simply as a blog, for emotional release, and in the hope it might be helpful to others. People found it beautiful and begged me to publish.

People have been asking for years that I write a memoir about my esoteric experiences. I can see that it might have value to seekers, and hope to slant it that way. Though I find it so difficult in practice, I’m not averse to the idea in principle. I think there must be lots of past lifetimes of needing to keep that knowledge secret, so perhaps I need to clear some blocks.

4) How does your writing process work? 

Poetry starts with a line or two in my head. That might turn out to be at the beginning or end, or somewhere in the middle. It might even end up being discarded — but it's important to write it down asap, or else I might lose the whole iceberg of which it's the tip. 

In recent years I have sometimes also written poems to prompts. They can trigger ideas and memories that might otherwise have lain dormant all my life.

I used to write by hand in notebooks I could carry with me everywhere. Nowadays I compose straight onto computer, and love to take my trusty iPad mini with me for writing as well as reading. (I uploaded the free Pages app.) I still carry a tiny notebook and a pen too, “just in case”. (In case of what? I haven’t yet specified that to myself.)

When I was the mother of young children (long ago), if I couldn't get straight to pen and paper when inspiration struck, I’d memorise the line or lines in my head and hold them there until I could. These days I trust my unconscious more, and allow things to percolate unattended if necessary. They’re there when I arrive at the page. Or the idea is, and it finds its words. Mind you, I try not to leave it too long before arriving at the page, or they can fade away and be lost.

A friend recently said she thought  my poems just flowed out spontaneously, without a lot of revision. I wasn't sure whether to be flattered or insulted. I do a great deal of tweaking and polishing at the point of creation. I do also come back to them after time has elapsed, and re-examine them.  I have been known to scrap things and do complete rewrites in other forms, styles, whatever. But it’s supposed to be good if one’s art appears effortless, so I decided to take my friend’s remark as a compliment — even while acquainting her with the facts! I thought she seemed a mite disappointed that her theory was wrong.

I do a lot of revising and editing of the prose, too.  

In prose, it is usually the idea that comes first and then I find the words — except for prose poetry, which I write occasionally; and unless I am journalling, which is a dump straight on to the page (and may or may not need a lot of cleaning up afterwards if I decide to make it public).

Trained by being a mum, and then by Natalie Goldberg, who suggested writing in cafés, I don’t need perfect peace and quiet in order to write. This is very useful!

Trained by poetry communities which issue prompts, and perhaps also by decades of experience, I can now toss off a creditable first draft quite quickly. Participation in these groups requires that the drafts go up on my blog straight away. I do come back later — sometimes a lot later — to revise and if necessary make changes, but most people see the first draft and probably don’t revisit. This is perhaps a good reason for submitting “finished” poems to literary magazines and anthologies (usually online nowadays) and for creating chapbooks.

Step 3: Who’s Next?  

I was asked to choose three other bloggers to whom to pass on the torch. At first I couldn’t find anyone who didn’t feel they were too busy. Then two people agreed: American poet and social media (content and design) professional Delaina Miller, and Aussie poet/muso/digital artist Phillip Barker (aka Soma).

If anyone else would like to jump in, please do! Email me for details.

(Cross-posted to my SnakyPoet blog)