Been thinking a lot about the process of writing. Why can I really nail it sometimes, and other times miss the broad side of the barn?
I can’t remember where I read it but I once heard that Susan Musgrave ended up covering a creative writing class for someone and had to teach her own work. One of the questions in the text was “What was the author thinking when she wrote this poem?” Musgrave, of course, didn’t know the answer herself and said so in derisive terms. Wonder if the students received better marks for giving a truthful answer.
Recently, someone has been asking me where I get the ideas for my stories. I’m embarrassed to answer, not because I’ve been doing exotic or illicit things but because it makes me seem really quite schizophrenic. Perhaps I was traumatised by my second-year Creative Writing professor (I use the term “professor” loosely; actually, I’m surprised I didn’t need therapy after surviving both my first- and second-year Creative Writing classes). This would have been in 1989 (according to the literary magazine the poem was printed in, anyway) so forgive the lack of writing ability; I promise you I’m much better at it now. Here’s the poem:
The Flower Gathering
Keane was putting nasturtiums in the salad
marigolds in the vegetables
pansies in the bread.
Joan pronounced the salmon to be ready
Mary and Andrew kissed in their newly-wed way.
Alex fell rather far into a bottle
of sweet red wine.
We all had hibiscus blossoms in our hair
braided hair and long
our skirts long
our thoughts longing.
Guthrie in one room
Dylan in the other
Charity had her guitar in the back yard
sitting among the blue delphinium.
This was our time of being.
Zachary ate the poinsettia leaves.
Each of us had to explain the thinking behind our poem. Well, I was living in Windsor and the city had poisoned all the rats in the alleys so my roommate and I were having to clean up all the dead rats from the back yard. My cat, Zachary, was sitting in the kitchen window, killing himself in his efforts to get outside and eat all the poisoned rats. The last line of the poem wrote itself from this scenario, and the rest followed in order from the beginning. I changed two words from the first draft.
The professor said I must be lying because that’s not the way poems get written.
That’s the way my poems get written.
Sometimes, like Susan Musgrave, I have no idea what I’m thinking as I write things. My brain creates them, and I try not to get too close to my brain. I believe my better writing – creative or otherwise – happens when I don’t think too much. People compliment the things which are spewed from the 8th circle of my brain. When I analyse and consider and contemplate, the pieces fall apart. Nice, ordered pieces from the 1st level get comments like “Well, it’s good….”
So, this is my new criteria for writing: if I can answer any questions about it, the piece sucks and you shouldn’t be forced to read it. If you really like it, I can’t answer a single question so don’t bother asking. If you persist, I’ll think you’re trying to get into my head, after which you’ll need therapy and I don’t think insurance companies cover Acts of Writing.