Friday, October 25, 2013

Writers on the Writing Process: An Interview with Poet Lisa Mangini

poet, Lisa Mangini
Lisa Mangini holds an MFA from Southern Connecticut State University, where she also teaches. She is the Founding Editor of Paper Nautilus, and the winner of the 2011 Connecticut Poetry Prize.  Her poetry collection, Bird Watching at the End of the World, is forthcoming from Cherry Grove in October 2014.

Laura Davis: How do you being writing? Do you just dive in? Warm-up exercise? Daydreaming? Any strange rituals involving smelling a drawer of fruit? 

Lisa Mangini: Daydreaming is essential to my writing, and I think, for me, that’s where all writing really begins. I’m a veteran of long commutes and spend a lot of time in the car, so just about all of my first kernels and leads for ideas are generated from that particular kind of mind wandering that occurs while driving a familiar route. And I have to sit and stew on ideas for a while – sometimes a few days, sometimes a month – before I even begin drafting them out. That thinking-it-over period gives me the opportunity to figure out how to turn a fleeting idea into something more substantial.

LD: What writing implement do you wield? 

LM: Handwritten with a pen is my first choice, preferably with a legal pad, since those spiral-bound books are less comfortable for writing left-handed. This process is tedious, especially for prose, but I find using a computer too distracting: the temptation of the internet, and all the red and green squiggles under words, backspacing and re-writing until I walk away with two lines after a few hours. Longhand helps shut out that inner-critic so I can actually get something done.

LD: How do you motivate yourself to write? Chocolates? Self-flagellation? Coffee on an IV drip? 

LM: While writing is always work (research to make some details more authentic, digging up emotional baggage,  picking apart that flat ending until it works), I try to treat the act itself as an indulgence. Life post-MFA means I have no consequences if I’m not producing new work, and with teaching, running a small press, and a day job, I don’t have as much time to spend on my own writing anymore. Carving out an hour or two a week to write now falls in the same category as a long bath or watching bad TV; it becomes the thing I do to reward myself for getting through all those other things that needed to be done.

LD: Do you believe in “writer’s block?” 

LM: In a way, yes, I do. I don’t believe in waiting for some “muse” to appear either, but I do think it’s easy to get burned out when there’s this expectation that one must be inspired all the time. There have been times that I wanted to write, set aside time to write, and found I really didn't have anything to say. Like I mentioned, all writing is work, but I don’t ever want to cross into that territory where it becomes a chore. If I’m truly tapped out, I spend that time reading instead, which eventually opens me up to new ideas or triggers something. If it takes longer than a few weeks to generate anything, it usually means that the block is me, getting in my own way with anxieties or fear about the anticipated quality of the new work – in which case I freewrite really badly until it passes.

LD: Beverage of choice? 

LM: Iced coffee, milk, no sugar. Sometimes with vodka.
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