The simple answer is because I must—because the urge exists within me to create finished works of art in verse form. Publishing success may be an attainable goal, but it doesn’t motivate me to keep writing. That desire comes from within, and some days I wish I didn’t possess it; then I wouldn’t feel compelled to exhaust my energy on shaping words that may end up on the literary cutting-room floor.
And if you are like me, struggling to find gratification with your work, I would like to offer a few suggestions. They may or may not help you, but I believe I have made progress since incorporating them into my writing routine. The tips could also be applied to other creative disciplines.
Accept Failure as the Likely Outcome
Having a negative outlook may seem counterproductive to success, but in my case it has led to a freer mind, propelling me to be more experimental with my work.
It goes like this: accept at the outset, before you even jot down a syllable, that your verses may never be published. So then what? Then what’s the point? Well I suggest write for yourself. Write to capture some truth about the world.
And to carry on in the face of failure, you must be satisfied with the act of creation alone, regardless of the result. Even if your poems are rejected, you can be proud that you made something that did not exist before. That is no insignificant accomplishment. You can also share your writing with family and friends. And there’s always a chance your work will find a home somewhere.
Look, Listen and Pay Attention
I walk to work almost every day and I let my eyes wander and my ears tap into the noises of my surroundings. This means I don’t listen to music on my iPod or NPR on my iPhone while I move along the sidewalk.
The goal is to develop a sense of wonder and a deep awareness of the world around you, and this is not limited to just walking. Opportunities abound for discovery. For example: do you notice the way the shadows fall under the oak tree in your front yard in the late afternoon? Did you hear the cranky muffler of that rusted blue car turning the corner? Pay attention to people; study the lines in their faces and listen to their manner of speech. These images and sounds are raw materials for your poems (or other works of art). Take advantage of them as starting points, an invitation to explore.
Always Carry Pen and Paper
Just like my EpiPen in the summertime, when bees and wasps like to buzz around me, I never leave home without a small notepad and a pen. Now I understand you can write notes on your phone, but I hate typing on a small keyboard and I want to get the ideas down before they flee my mind.
Many times I will be outside and observe something, or any idea will strike. In the past I would be without a pen and paper and I would walk down the street muttering to myself like a lunatic as I tried to recall the idea or retain the exact wording of a phrase or line of poetry. So when an idea hits you, while you’re doing laundry or roaming through the produce section of the grocery store, write it down. You don’t need to write out complete sentences, just hints that will make you remember what caught your attention in the first place, e.g. a crow squawking or Milly’s lime green dress at her birthday party.
Get It Down Before You Get It Right
And on a related note: during the exploratory phase, whether freewriting on your computer or scribbling notes on paper, just let yourself go. Throw all of your ideas and images into the first draft and resist the urge to self-edit. Break your writing into two distinct phases—creation/acquisition and editing/refinement. Don’t restrain your creative impulses before you move on to the edit stage.
Revise, Revise, Revise
Once you get to the “post-production” stage of writing, print out your manuscript. See the words on the paper and go through the piece word by word, line by line. Be merciless with your red pen. Strike out anything that seems false or doesn’t make sense. Sometimes it’s helpful to imagine a single reader reviewing your work. Think about trying to impress a crusty editor who is reading your manuscript at his or her desk during a lunch break, a tuna sandwich in one hand. Or think of a Millennial waiting in line at Starbucks. He or she pulls out a digital device and begins reading your poem. Make the person stop and pay attention, finding pleasure or meaning in the words you have strung together. Strive to give the reader a moment of joy that rises above mundane existence.
And now I will take my own advice and print out this article and see what I can cut out.
When you are discouraged with your artistic endeavors, what motivates you to keep going? Do you have any suggestions for staying committed to your work?
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