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How To Write A Poem

Do you know about The Creative Independent?

It’s a website and newsletter dedicated to exploring what it means to be an artist and make as an artist, largely focused on writing. It’s great! And it comes in newsletter form.

Yesterday’s was wonderful because it was all about dealing with roughness, with making and remaking work. The art of the tweak, you could say. The first interview featured was with poet José Olivera who explained his relationship with very rough drafting and how he knows when a piece is finished (if it ever is), when a piece needs more working, and when a piece is ready to be tucked away, forgotten for good. Invaluable creative advice, especially for writers.

My favorite part? Where Olivera describes explains how he writes a poem. This may seem very specific, sure, but it’s the type of practical little writing life advice that validates how one works.

Part of it is a state of writing all the time. I was riding the train to work this morning, and I was turning a line over in my head. I’m kind of constantly trying to play with language, and turning different things over in my head.

In terms of writing a poem, for me it really is more about showing up than waiting for inspiration. I try to think of writing a poem in the same vein as any other job. A plumber doesn’t say, “I’m going to wait until I am struck with plumbing inspiration, and then I’m going to go do my work.” The plumber just grabs his tools and starts doing their work.

So for me, I have tools, too. If I really can’t write, then I’ll go read a book, and if I still can’t write, then I’m also okay with that. But it starts with just sitting down and trying to write, and failing a lot. Like really, really bad lines immediately that I know are bad.

Just grabs the tools and starts working. You make things worse and then you make things better. That’s a lot like life, really.

I like to think my work doesn’t always feel “worse” before it gets better but I do think that you get the feeling that you’re failing, that no one wants to read what you’re doing, before you eventually break through that wall to see that your work is actually important, interesting, exciting. That is the moment when a breakthrough occurs.

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