A Call for a Change in Habit and Routine

If you do a Google search about the writing process, you will find numerous articles that preach the importance of routine, habit, and discipline. Those are certainly important characteristics, and in any writing course that I teach, I begin by addressing the writing process. Specifically, I tell students that everyone’s process is different, but you have to find a routine that works for you. You have to show up and do the work, not expect inspiration to merely find you. It never works that way. Sometimes, I share this link/article with them about the routines of famous writers, everyone from Ray Bradybury to Susan Sontag.

I’ve had the same writing routine since college. More specifically, I write in the morning, often starting with journaling or a recording of dreams, and then moving to a draft of a previous poem or new poem. I either sit at my writing desk, in the bedroom, or at the dining table. I’ve had an affinity for writing at dining tables since college, when I had no other place to write because I shared a cramped apartment with three of my friends. In college, I developed the routine of writing in the morning, before my late morning/early afternoon classes. I hustled to finish drafts of poems or short stories before my afternoon and evening workshops. Beyond location, I have other specific aspects of my routine. I journal and write all drafts of poems by hand. There is something to be said about breath, rhythm, and writing by hand. Revisions are later done in Word, printed out, and then written over in pen, before revised in Word again. This is what works for me.

Lately, however, I’ve needed to clear my mind and sweep away some dead energy. I felt confined to a space. While routines and specific habits are important, so the writer gets in the habit of sitting down in a chair and showing up for the muse, there is also something to be said about breaking out of habit. For four days, I ventured to Cape May and used the time not only to see the town again, but also to write. In that span of time, I wrote seven new poems. n addition, I plowed through some books that have been stacked on my shelves for weeks, even months.There is something to be said about a simple change of scenery, and it doesn’t have to be a mini vacation. It can simply mean visiting a new cafe or walking through different parts of your neighborhood.

If you are stuck, try breaking the routine, at least for a day or two. Take the journal and laptop and go to a new cafe or park. Take a long walk through unexplored territory. It will help, trust me.

Poems of the Week

During the month of April, I’ve been asked to select poems of the week for TheThePoetry blog, and doing so has been an honor and treat so far. As a way to celebrate National Poetry Month, I’ll post my selections here. All of the selections I’ve made so far are by poets whose work I deeply admire and poets who have been supportive of me in my career as a poet.

The first selection, which ran last week, is the poem “Bliss” by Christine Gelineau, which you can read here. The most recent poem of the week is “Watching the Pelican Die” by Maria Mazziotti Gillan, which you can read here. I am lucky and fortunate enough to know both poets. Christine was one of my mentors during my time spent completing my M.F.A. at Wilkes University, and Maria is currently one of my professors in my Ph.D. program at SUNY Binghamton. Both poets are strong supporters of their students and wonderful writers. I hope you enjoy ther work.

The website also just published an interview with Maria, some of which I want to quote here as a way to think about poetry, especially the narrative form that she and I use most often.

In regards to the narrative form, she says, “My vision of poetry is that it should be based on some essential truth about what it means to be human and I think narrative poetry gets at those truths more directly and effectively than many other types of poetry. I want to give people permission to tell their own stories and to look at the world unflinchingly through the their own eyes rather than worrying about what critics or literary theorists say about writing. Like Faulkner, I believe literature is about the truths of the human heart and not about intellectual analysis.”

Later in the interview, she says of the writing process, “I think it is unfortunate that so much of our education trains us to subdue all that is wild and primitive and honest inside ourselves and in our writing. I think that we have to be willing to let go, to ignore our intellect and allow instinct to take over. In revision, we can use our intellects, but in writing the poem we need to believe that this instinctive voice knows what we need to write and as soon as we look that very middle-class,suburban inside voice, we lose the energy and vitality in our work. Even in revision, we have to be careful, to prune the work with delicate hands.”

 

Enjoy the poems and enjoy the interview!

 

Some Useful Links Regarding Lit Mags

 

The process of submitting your writing to literary journals can be utterly daunting. One of the most popular databases, Duotrope, now charges a fee for its services, and unless you know what you’re looking for, it won’t yield much for a basic search. Another well-known resource, Poets & Writers magazine, has a classifieds section available online and in the back of the magazine. Some of my publishing credits came from resources I found in that classifieds section. However, that section can be hit or miss, and lately, it features more ads for conferences and grants than it does for literary magazines.

Recently, I started submitting new work to various magazines, and I’ve discovered two wonderful resources. One of the resources is called The Review Review, a website which publishes reviews of various magazines, thus providing information to writers about what the mags are looking for and the type of creative work they typically publish. Furthermore, the website includes a database of literary journals, and I’ve been mining the database every few days for new publishing opportunities. Check out the site and bookmark it. New reviews are published frequently, and new magazines are added to the database.

I also discovered a website created by Jeffrey Bahr, a poet whose work has been published in some of the most prestigious literary journals in the country, such as Iowa Review, Indiana Review, and Black Warrior Review. Basically, Bahr has a list of lit. mags on his website and provides short blurbs about their submission process. He rates them  in terms of difficulty, and Poetry magazine and The New Yorker top the list.  Keep in mind that just about every single publication on his list is fairly well-known, and even the journals at the bottom of the list, such as Main Street Rag, Tar River Poetry Review, and Spillway, have low acceptance rates. (Both Main Street Rag and Spillway rejected my work multiple times before I finally got an acceptance recently in each of those mags). But the list is worth checking out, especially for mid-level writers looking to break into some of the more well-known magazines.

Happy hunting!

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