This article in The Morning News really centered some of my own wandering thoughts about my role as a poet, teacher and editor. I put those words in that specific order because that is how I approach my life in the writing world, with really one change – There should be a fourth one there, and a fourth one that actually should come first – Reader.
I began writing because I loved to read, because I wanted to see if I could create something that spoke to me (or someone else) the way books and poems had spoken to me as a child. I really can’t remember a time when I wasn’t trying to write and read whatever was around me. Even when I gave up writing towards publication, I still couldn’t throw out my writing. I’d return to it everyone once in a while and wonder – what to do with these poems?
Sadly, what I did was I let those poems sit. For years. I realize now what was going on, and I only just realized this now – like one of those proverbial lightning bolts of insight – that I was not writing or revising my poems because I had no audience.
Even if you are not seeking publication, even if you think you are just writing because you have to – I feel now – that you are still writing towards an audience. You, if nothing else are writing to the future audience of yourself. You are writing to the you who will go back and read these words later on and go hmm – nice idea – or – WTF? why did I write that? Writing, for me, is a way to communicate with myself and with others around me.
When I stopped writing for about 5 years in my late 20′s and into my early 30′s it was because I didn’t know that. I had begun to think that the only point to writing was to write towards publication and when that wasn’t happening, I just didn’t write. So when did my view of writing become so skewed towards the competition of getting published?
How far do I go back?
I wasn’t a particularly competitive person until I started school. Early on in school, however, I found I was jealous if kids were put into special groups and I was excluded. I didn’t want to feel different even though I didn’t seek to be popular, but I wanted to be seen as smart. I think my hopes of being smart and/or being at the top of my class would catapult me to some future that would be so unlike my present. From Kindergarten on I wanted to go to college; I wanted to teach or to help people. Sounds corny, but it was true. So even shy me wanted my creative writing assignments in grade school read out loud.
By the time I was a freshman in high school, and had had my first official creative writing class, all I wanted was recognition for something I thought I could potentially be good at. I’m not completely sure why I craved so much attention, but I started to think if I could win a contest or get published it might help me get a scholarship and then all my dreams would come true.
Daydreaming was my favorite hobby.
I know I have spent too much time judging myself against others. Maybe that can work okay in the world of academics (where there is a number grade and which I love/d) but it is much harder to gauge success in the subjective world of writing and potentially publishing poetry. Some people may go out and win the biggest awards possible, the best fellowships, the occasional Billy Collins style publishing deals but I know that isn’t me. The competitive drive just isn’t in me anymore. I just want to read poems that inspire me. I just want to write on topics that interest me and hope I can entertain and/or instruct a few people. I want to teach other people about writing even if I can’t get paid for it. I want to return to the sheer joy of words.
And, yes, I still want to be published but I want to be published in places where my voice fits and with people who enjoy my work. Some of it has happened very fast and I still have so much ready to be published that it overwhelms me at times. I need to just enjoy myself. I mean, I was never one to try to go the biggest school or to have the best things – I went to the schools that fit me (and I found them) and I buy enough “stuff” to get by and maybe look cute once in a while – or as close to cute as I can get.
In my quest to get back to writing over the last 3 years I have become so driven that I’ve forgotten to let my Muse catch her breath. I’m trying to listen to her now because we are in this together (even the me in those 70′s clothes!)