on being a writer (revised)
It is an indescribable (odd?) existence to find such pleasure and meaning by pecking out letters and seeing words string together like cranberries or popcorn on thread. Sometimes you eat those popcorn-words faster than you can string them together. But to see them come together in paragraphs and then--finally--a book: it's Christmas and the best present, though perhaps not the largest, has your name on it. You hold it and look at it and love it and don't even open it for a long while--you already know what's inside.
Richard Wilbur wrote a wonderful poem entitled "The Writer" about his daughter's early pursuit to write. He, a poet himself, expressed well the struggle to write. Here, he reads "The Writer" at the Sunken Garden Poetry Festival (a few years back).
I love the ending to another of his poems, "Blackberries for Amelia" :
"and I shall need/Two pails, old clothes in which to stain and bleed,/And a grandchild to talk with while we pick."The "Blackberries" poem isn't actually my favorite, but I do love those final lines. And I'm learning to take what's good... Wilbur brings common experiences to life by vividly describing from his unique vantage point and then including people he loves dearly. I will do well to remember this.
On being a writer? What should I say? I could share a critique on "The Writer." Or a poetry exercise. (I actually did on an earlier version of this post, but (revising) deleted both. Who really cares? I am not a poet. You should do your own critique. It's not a horribly difficult poem to analyze.) Anyway, critiques and college exercises are not so much the point. It is true that you learn from looking deeply at others' style. And imitative writing is (ironically) often the best way to find your own voice. In the end, I am glad I took Poetry Writing with Mrs. Turner, for even though I do not aspire to be a poet, I do believe truly enjoyable prose has a poetic cadence.
I've always been told, the real key to being a writer is simple: Write. Read, yes. Learn the craft. Critique, sure. Copy/imitate, by all means. But don't get too caught up in the study of the thing. Hone your craft by writing. Get feedback from friends, willing guinea pigs. Accept their critiques. Tweak, tone, untie your tongue. Write. Rewrite. Write some more. This is the advice I've been given, and it's good.
But I will add two more comments.
One, as a Christian, I have found that my writing is best when my relationship with God is right, when I am in His word, when I am talking to Him, listening, asking what He wants me to write. There is no point in writing just to add words. "Of making many books, there is no end."
Two, you don't have to publish everything you write. Writing is a great way to learn. But not all writing is meant to be shared. When I say "publish" I mean not only formal publication but also on blogs, fb, etc. Test your words before you press "post." "In the multitude of words, there wanteth not sin." A personal journal is not for the public, or even posterity (necessarily). Reserve publication for the message God has given to you to communicate to others. A woman of few words is often most worth listening to.
I will no doubt continue to write. And I won't share everything, but I will try to share the really salient things. If I can use my voice in my generation to point others to faith (or greater faith) in our great God, I will count it a gift from God and happily gift it back to Him in The End.
Grace and peace,
What poems do you love? What lessons have you learned about being a writer? How does your personal relationship with God affect your writing?