Friday, September 27, 2013

Writers on the Writing Process: An Interview with Writer Katrina Otuonye

writer Katrina Otuonye
Katrina Otuonye is a Yooper, transplanted Tennessean, China explorer, and teacher. She recently published nonfiction in The Feminist Wire, Crab Orchard Review and Litro Magazine, among others. Otuonye teaches at Tennessee Tech University in Cookeville and serves as a Poet Mentor for Southern Word, a nonprofit based in Nashville.

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

Katrina Otuonye: I dive in. I have a journal where I keep my notes, post-its and scribbles, but once I open a new Word document, or flip to a blank page, I’ll pick one that conjures an image and start writing. I close my eyes and take a second to see it in front of me. People in cafes probably think I’m sleeping. I’m processing. I write in bursts, as if I need to get everything that’s in my head down on paper before it flows away. I like to show my students this clip from Finding Forrester, where an aging writer admonishes a younger student on how to write: “You write your first draft from your heart, and you rewrite with your head. The first key of writing is to write. Not to think.” He doesn't even look at the typewriter as he’s talking, and composing, at once. I try not to put too much pressure on myself, but that’s how I start. I remind myself I could write something brilliant. I have a vague idea of what I want to say and my first description might be weak—it might be awful—but it could be absolutely brilliant.

LD: How often do you write and for how long? What time of day?

KO: I aim for 500 words every day. That could take 10 minutes, or 3 hours, depending on what I’m working on, how the words are flowing that day. If it’s a good day and I have time, I keep going, humming along like a machine. I might only write 50 words for me today, but they’ll be mine and I will love and cherish those words. Or I could get an idea for an entirely new story and write 5000 words.

Once I get into a groove on a project, I could write all day. But I have to get started. If I get up early to write, I end up on Vulture to see what people are saying about Breaking Bad. I work best during the late afternoon, or at night. I think that’s a procrastination-based habit I developed in college, where I would put off whatever it was that I needed or wanted to do until the last minute. My main motivation is, well, “Katrina, you have to finish this draft so you can eat dinner.” or “You have to get this on the page so you can sleep.” And then I think, "Ok, let’s do this."

LD: What writing implement do you wield?

KO: The initial ideas typically arrive on paper and then I develop [them] on my computer because I type faster than I can write by hand. I love the Notes app on my phone. My friends may think I’m texting someone when we’re out, but I’m usually pecking in something funny they said. I also have a bunch of journals and little notepads for scribbling. My old phone died on me a few weeks ago when I was trapped at a rest stop, waiting on AAA. So I pulled out a notepad and started writing about my current predicament. Technology won’t always save you. I teach some writing workshops in Nashville and when the students have a long prompt, or I’m observing, sometimes I’ll write with them for a few minutes. I pulled out a journal the other day and one of my students nudged another one and announced, “She has a journal!” They were in awe; as if teachers can’t have journals. I think they only see other students using them, or believe those tightly bound pages are only for compositions.

LD: How do you decide that you are finished working on a story, essay, or poem? 

KO: Hah, when there’s a deadline. No story is ever finished. Usually when I’m exhausted and just sick of the draft, I’ll walk away. I’ll love it, but it’s as if one of my favorite songs comes on the radio and I turn the station because I need to be on a different wavelength. Once I get everything down on the page, maybe read it over once, I take a break. I work on something else and revisit it in a few days or a week, just to let everything settle. And then I can start the 4th or 5th or 11th draft. I’ll read it and love it, or I’ll know I can fix things, but usually when I’m happy with it, I’m done. I’ll go back and make sure I've accomplished telling the story and making a point about myself or the event and then I just…this is a non-answer, but I just know. Poems are different. Poems and I are still growing on each other. I never know. I’ll show a poem to someone and they’ll make a suggestion and I’ll rewrite the whole thing. It’ll be as if the 1st one never existed. But that’s the point of drafts.

LD: Let’s talk about your writing soundscape. Do you listen to music? Cafe rumblings? White noise? Utter silence? 

KO: I write well in cafes where there’s music that I’m not in charge of, or when it’s silent. If I hear a familiar song, I’ll sing along and get distracted. I’ll think, “I wonder what The Barenaked Ladies are up to?” and start Googling. But so many of my memories are punctuated by songs. I heard Celine Dion the other day. When I was younger, her music, and other light rock and R&B played on the radio on late weeknights in the car with my parents, driving back from my brothers’ basketball games. Suddenly, I’m 11, listening to Boyz II Men in the back of our minivan on a freezing Michigan February night wrapped up in an afghan my mom’s friend sewed for me before I was born. Then, I’m furiously typing, getting that scene on the page before I forget. That’s how it goes.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Not-So-Free Freelancer

It's Thursday, which means if you work a 9-5 job then tomorrow is Friday, as in TGIF! As in two days off. As in holy crap I need a break. As in time-to-myself. As in the weekend is nigh.

There are so so so  many things I love about freelancing. My schedule is really open and many of my jobs don't require me to leave the house. This time of year, this freedom becomes less free. In the last three months I've already worked 1/3 of my annual hours. That's 1/3 of the work in 1/4 of the time. If you aren't good at math and/or find fractions confusing, go fill a 1/3 measuring cup with water and pour it into a 1/4 cup. As you sop up the water you've spilled all over your counter, imagine that's me liquefied.

Since it's my third year at this, I've gotten a lot better at not completely ignoring my physical needs. Naps are essential. So are breaks, even mini ones to just warm my cup of peppermint tea. I say no to just about everything social. Lots of deep breathing. To keep my poetry-writing muscles toned, I make words my smallest unit. Word lists. Etymological research. Dictionary reading. A manageable task. Anything that makes approaching the page a little less daunting. Something that I can do while I'm exhausted. So, here for your reading enjoyment, and possibly a little poetic inspiration, are a few photos of my latest lingual collections.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Writers on the Writing Process: An Interview with Writer Uma Gowrishankar

Writer Uma Gowrishankar
Uma Gowrishankar lives in Chennai, South India. She writes, paints, practices yoga and maintains a terrace garden in the middle of a noisy and populated city. Her poems have appeared in journals such as Qaartsiluni, Buddhist Poetry Review, Whale Sound, Catapult Magazine, Curio Poetry, Words Dance and Carcinogenic Poetry. Her short fiction has been published in Pure Slush and Postcard Shorts. Presently she is writing a novel in collaboration with a writer friend. She blogs here.

Laura Davis: Where do you write? Paint us a word picture. Put us there. And that other place you like. Or just send a real picture.

Uma Gowrishankar: I write at my table in my room. It is an old teak table that I brought from my parents’ home. The table is at the window that overlooks my terrace garden which teems with butterflies, bees and dragonflies. I live in an intensely populated locality, but my apartment and my room is tucked away from the din and noise, and this garden gives me a piece of quietness to work.

LD: How often do you write and for how long? What time of day? 

UG: I have a 9 to 5 job as education consultant. Fortunately I can quickly slip into my writing, so I manage snatches of writing even through my working day. I write in the evenings between cooking for family and yoga. Basically I am a night person, I stay up late and write. During the weekends I write for full days, getting myself only a few hours of sleep.

LD: What is your favorite exercise that gets the words flowing?

a painting of her writing space by Uma Gowrishankar
UG: If I do not read poetry, I cannot write. I immerse myself in reading poems; I carry a pocket-sized book with names of contemporary poets, which I pick from recommendations made by friends who are fine poets themselves. Reading poetry, for me, is like the breathing exercise before starting the yoga asana; it is the space I create, vibrating with certain energy. Sometimes an image from a poem I have read becomes the germ of my writing, like a cotton seed it flutters revealing various possibilities, capturing on its wings different slants of sunlight. Words, metaphors, turn of phrases and sentences bear such promises; they hold the torch in whose light and inspiration I develop a thought or idea.

LD: What color is your writing process? Do explain. 

UG: I am glad you asked me this question. Being an artist I navigate my life through color codes. My writing process on most days is green color - the green you find under water, turbid at the bottom and luminous at the surface. On certain days it could be warm ochre, the ochre of a mango fruit in the market in Chennai.

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

UG: Oh, none of these! Reading motivates me the best, it could be poetry, prose or novel. Words strung exquisitely make me restless to put aside whatever I am reading, to get to the computer to write. My work table has books splayed open on their spine beside my computer where I write. Yes, I can read and write at the same time!

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Writers on the Writing Process: An Interview with Poet Ruth Foley

Poet Ruth Foley
Ruth Foley's work has appeared in The Bellingham Review, Yemassee, and Weave, among others, and been nominated for the Pushcart prize and for the Best of the Net and Best New Poets anthologies. Her chapbook Dear Turquoise is forthcoming from Dancing Girl Press. She serves as Managing Editor at Cider Press Review, and you can find her online on her blog.

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

Ruth Foley: I now wish I had a drawer of fruit, but I'm afraid I have to say that I usually just dive in. Often, I begin writing by reading, and my reading can trigger strange responses. Recently, I was reading a book of poems that I found to be deliberately obscure, and I really wanted to put it down forever and pick up something else. Then I realized that every time I picked up that book, I ended up drafting a new poem. I think it was a reaction to the obscurity, a drive for clear expression. Lately, for me, beginning to write requires crawling into bed with a book (and a notebook on the bedside table), but it has in the past required obsessively listening to a particular song or artist, waking myself just as I'm drifting off in order to capture on paper whatever was floating around in my head in the moments right before sleep, and/or driving by myself with the radio off. Or any number of other things. A ritual works for a while, and then it doesn't, and I move on.

LD: Describe the process of making a recent poem or story. Lightning? Slow-dripping faucet? How long did you work on it?

Foley's manuscript while sequencing
RF: I recently finished putting together a full-length manuscript I'm really happy with. I had a lot of material that I wasn't sure what to do with, but that was driving me to work with it. I've written several poems of grief over the past year and a half or so, and it was very important to me for multiple reasons that I handle them well and find the right way to present them. Some of them appear in the chapbook Dear Turquoise, but I knew the chapbook wasn't the end of things. I spend a week every summer with the same group of poets at a self-organized conference in Connecticut, and one of my goals for the week was to get a start on getting the manuscript together, but I had no idea how to begin. Sometime mid-week it occurred to me while talking to some of the genius poets there that I could use the Turquoise poems to anchor the manuscript thematically, and I started spreading poems out all over my room—on the bed, on the floor, on the desk, anywhere there was space. I got a good start at the conference after I got home, my husband put one of the big leaves into our giant dining room table and then left the house for the better part of two days. It was sort of like having a pipe burst, but it a good way: for about a year, everything was frozen, nothing could move. And then everything exploded at once. The real moral of this story is to surround yourself with genius poets and partners who support you wholeheartedly.

LD: What color is your writing process? Do explain.

RF: I think it's probably the grey-green of the northern Atlantic. Lots of colorful stuff can hide under there, and the ocean itself can pretend to be blue or white or even black for a while, but we all know better. I regularly try to turn away from the ocean and find that I can't. A friend of mine likes to say that we need to write away from our obsessions and find new topics because our obsessions will find their way into our work anyway, and I tend to agree with him. My process has the kind of false honesty of the ocean—a poem often starts out looking like one thing, like something very straightforward, and turns out to be something else entirely.

LD: How do you decide that you are finished working on a story, essay, or poem?

RF: In general, I think poems decide they're finished working on me. I have gone back to poems after years—after they've been published, when I think they're long-since done speaking to me—and found that they have other things to say. So I don't tend to use the word "finished;" instead I say, "quiet" or "resting." Poems are resting when I no longer feel driven to work on them anymore, when they seem to be satisfied with the shape they're in. I try very hard to think of them as their own creatures, with their own needs, and to listen to what they want from me.

LD: Let’s talk about your writing soundscape. Do you listen to music? Cafe rumblings? White noise? Utter silence?

RF: Silence is good. There's usually some noise—from the street, or, if I'm in my office on campus, from the other people in the library. My favorite soundtrack when I'm writing is the quiet presence of my two greyhounds, who are almost always asleep. I don't want music while I'm writing. I don't tend to want any outside input at all. And if I'm working on something larger, like a series of poems, I'm often very careful about what I listen to even when I'm not writing. I'm superstitious about setting the right mood, or maybe about accidentally breaking the mood and not being able to get it back. It's an almost physical reaction, sometimes, my aversion to the "wrong" kind of noise—and what's "right" or "wrong" tends to vary. But I can always count on the dogs. 

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Writers on the Writing Process: An Interview with Poet Molly Spencer

Poet Molly Spencer
Molly Spencer’s poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Cave Wall, Linebreak, The Massachusetts Review, Beloit Poetry Journal, and elsewhere. A native Michigander and one-time Minnesotan, she now lives in the San Francisco Bay area with her husband and their three children. She writes about poetry, the writing life, and parenthood on her blog.

Laura Davis: Where do you write? Paint us a word picture. Put us there. And that other place you like. Or just send a real picture.

Molly Spencer: Either here:

I'm almost embarrassed to share this. But here is my desk (above). Please note: hair brush and barrette from this morning's hair styling session with my 7-year-old; my 10-year-old's prescription (thankfully remembered this morning with breakfast); emergency ibuprofen supply at the ready; random hourglass, provenance unknown; many love notes from 7-year-old; notes to self about submissions hanging from snowflake made by 7-year-old; husband's rain jacket hanging on my chair — EGREGIOUS VIOLATION!; totem crow. This desk is literally within reach of my kitchen counter to the left, and my kitchen table to the right. 

Or here:

My favorite spot at the library. My happy place.

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

MS: I always begin by reading the work of other poets. Often I’m reading my way through a collection, but sometimes it’ll be a literary journal or just a stack of poems I've printed from various online sources and set aside for later. As I read, I write down interesting words and phrases, sometimes whole lines. Then I use those scraps of language to do some free-writing. I call this process my “morning reading and writing,” and it is the foundation of all my work.

LD: What is your favorite exercise that gets the words flowing?

MS: I’ll often use a word bank of 7 to 10 words – usually a combination of interesting words from whatever I’m reading plus a few from my own personal universe deck (which I wrote about here). I also go through recent free-writes, pulling phrases and words that catch my interest. Then I’ll start writing anything that comes to mind, and try to use the words and phrases that I've identified. Once I've done that, I often load the lines I've written into a list on this site and press the “randomize” button. This process sifts the lines and somehow helps me to see which ones are most important, I think because it releases me from whatever progression originally asserted itself in the writing. By this time I’m often well on my way to a draft and I usually start cutting like crazy to find it.

Another thing I do a lot of is what I call “word work.” For a few words that seem important to what I’m writing, I’ll look up etymology, alternate definitions, synonyms and antonyms. As I’m doing this work, phrases or other words will often come to me, so I’ll jot those down in the margins. Often they make their way into whatever I’m working on. This is also a helpful exercise for finding just the right word while revising.

LD: How do you decide that you are finished working on a story, essay, or poem?

MS: I don’t find the word “finished” to be a helpful one when it comes to my writing. Instead, I think in terms of: Is this poem send-out-able? Do I believe in this work? Those, for me, are much more helpful questions than, “Is it finished?” because what I've found is that poems have a life of their own and they often come knocking on my door months or years after I last worked on them, insisting upon some revisions. 

LD: What’s the strangest thing you've used to write a poem or a story with and/or upon?
MS: My pant leg. Unless you want to count my children’s minds – I've been known to make them memorize lines that are coming to me as I’m driving.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Writers on the Writing Process: An Interview with Poet Carol Berg

poet Carol Berg
Carol Berg’s poems are forthcoming or featured in The Journal, Spillway, Redactions, Pebble Lake Review, Fifth Wednesday Journal, and Verse Wisconsin. Her poems have received Pushcart Prize nominations and a Best of the Net nomination. Her most recent chapbook, Her Vena Amoris, is available from Red Bird Chapbooks. She blogs here.

Laura Davis: Describe the process of making a recent poem or story. Lightning? Slow-dripping faucet? How long did you work on it?

Carol Berg: I’m part of an on-line group of poets who try to write a poem every day during certain months. A prompt is provided that you can choose to use. I’m also using Diane Lockward’s book The Crafty Poet. So last Tuesday, I started a poem by picking a line from a song, “I know a dirty word,” from Kurt Cobain’s song “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” Then I scoured the dictionary for words using only those letters. That was time consuming—I think it took me at least two hours or so. I got three journal pages of words and then the next day started crafting the poem. I used the phrase “I know to” to start generating lines. I don’t know how long it took to get a draft—25 minutes maybe? The world doesn't really exist when I’m inside the poem, crafting it. Right now the poem is simmering in a folder. I've visited it today and tinkered with a few words, but I know it’s not finished yet.

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

CB: I keep a journal and sometimes my writing begins by mind-dumping. I need to write out my fears. Other times, if I’m writing a series of poems with a particular speaker, I’ll scour my journal for ideas or an image or some subject matter that I want to explore. There are things I’d like to do in my poems that I see other poets do. For example, I love poems that have dictionary themes to them and about a month ago, I was writing poems in the voice of a woman who dwelled in the caves of Lascaux. So I tried to write a dictionary poem of sorrows through that woman’s voice.

LD: What color is your writing process? Do explain.

CB: I love this question! I think my color is a gray-ish opaque, mainly because I’m so inside my head or inside the words themselves that the process seems foggy. The dictionary is so very black and white. I write with a pencil in a journal so there’s a lot of black and white happening visually there as well. Then when I move to the computer with its blue background the process might change a bit. Things might open up more.
LD: How do you decide that you are finished working on a story, essay, or poem?

CB: There was a Facebook photo going around where it said something like, “I do my best revising after I submit a poem.” Sometimes this is very true of me: I get so excited about my poems that I send them out too quickly. Other times, the ending is pretty final to me. This is a very intuitive part of the process. It’s a feeling about the poem—either you feel that it is finished or you still want to prod it a bit. Poke at it in the middle and see where it jiggles.
LD: How do you motivate yourself to write? Chocolates? Self-flagellation? Drugs?

CB: It’s pure pleasure. Nothing else I do mentally gives me as much feeling of understanding about myself and the world. Not to mention the surprises that come, either new ideas about myself or a new way of seeing things in the world, and I've done that. I wrote that new thing. Pretty powerful stuff, really.

Would you like to be a featured writer in this interview series? Email Laura for more information.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Writers on the Writing Process: An Interview with Poet Sandy Longhorn

poet Sandy Longhorn
Sandy Longhorn is the author of The Girlhood Book of Prairie Myths, forthcoming from Jacar Press, and Blood Almanac (Anhinga). Longhorn teaches at Pulaski Technical College and for the low-residency MFA at the University of Arkansas Monticello. She co-edits Heron Tree and blogs at Myself the only Kangaroo among the Beauty.

Laura Davis: What is your favorite exercise that gets the words flowing?

Sandy Longhorn: I love to use a word bank to get started writing. For this exercise, I read several poems by writers I admire, and I “collect” all of the fantastic nouns and verbs in my journal, scribbling by hand and allowing myself a few adjectives. I let these words fall at random on the page in a big mess. As they fall, words clash together and sparks start to fly. I circle words and draw arrows when connections leap up. Once I’ve got a good chunk of random material, lines begin to suggest themselves and off I go, drafting a new poem.

LD: How long have you been writing? 
SL: I have been writing since I learned to hold a pencil and form crude letters on newsprint. My first official “short story” was written in 5th grade, featuring a group of kids investigating a haunted house; in other words, I plagiarized an episode of Scooby Doo. My teacher gave it a star, though, so she must not have been a fan of the cartoon. I switched to poetry in junior high so I could write righteous break-up poems for my friends, and I haven’t looked back since.

LD: Let’s talk about your writing soundscape. Do you listen to music? Cafe rumblings? White noise? Utter silence? 

SL: I fluctuate between some background, instrumental music and a quiet house with just the rustlings of the cats inside and the singing of the birds outside as background noise. When I listen to music, my playlists include Yo-Yo Ma, John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk, and Steffen Basho-Junghans. I’ve tried to write in coffee shops and restaurants, even libraries, but I am hopelessly distracted by any kind of language or movement of people. I’m a looky-loo and an eavesdropper; I blame this on my maternal grandmother.

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

SL: No, I don’t believe in writer’s block, but I do believe in fallow periods, times when the creative mind gets quiet and goes dormant. In this dormancy, new ideas are taking root, new inspirations and new models are being formed. It’s taken me a long time to become even a little bit comfortable with this phenomenon. Of course, if one finds oneself making excuses for not writing when the ideas are there, waiting to be heard, then it might be time to break out the emergency axe and get to work on the block.

LD: Beverage of choice? 

SL: Double-fisted drinking, I write mostly in the mornings when I must have a cup of hot, hot, hot coffee (none of this iced latte business here) and a glass of ice-cold orange juice (no pulp!) diluted 50% with water. 

Would you like to be a featured writer in this interview series? Email Laura for more information.

Monday, September 9, 2013

LitShare: Cornbread, Step-parenting, and Gravity

Weave Magazine is having a subscription drive for September: 50 subscriptions in 30 days.

The latest issue of Muzzle Magazine is available, which includes a review of Jan Beatty's new book, The Switching/Yard. HOT DAMN, this book is good.

Meena Alexander ponders the use of poetry.

Really beautiful piece about step-parenting.

This essay about cornbread by Beth Gilstrap will make you hungry.

Visual inspiration: dancers defying gravity.


*Got some literary news to share? Send it via Twitter or G+ and/or use the #litshare tag!

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Writers on the Writing Process: An Interview with Poet Donna Vorreyer

poet Donna Vorreyer
Donna Vorreyer is a Chicago-area writer who spends her days teaching middle school, trying to convince teenagers that words matter. Her work has appeared in many journals including Rhino, Linebreak, Cider Press Review, Stirring, Sweet, wicked alice, and Weave. Her fifth chapbook, We Build Houses of Our Bodies, is forthcoming this year from Dancing Girl Press; in addition, her first full-length poetry collection, A House of Many Windows, is now available from Sundress Publications. She also serves as a poetry editor for Mixed Fruit magazine. Visit her online here.

Laura Davis: How often do you write and for how long? What time of day?

Donna Vorreyer: I am a public school teacher, so my workdays often begin before 6 AM and usually don’t end until after 4 PM. And I have to try to workout, take care of my dogs, cook dinner, spend time with my family…you get the idea. So, most of the year, I write at night, usually multitasking or tuning out the television to work. On my school breaks and in the summer, I find that afternoons are productive for me, mostly for practical reasons. If I get all of my chores and duties done in the morning, the afternoons are guilt-free for thinking. However, when I am out at a conference/retreat/residency, I turn into a completely different animal. I often stay up until 2 or 3 AM pumping out new material. I think it’s the freedom of having no other “jobs” during those times. When writing is my job for those short days, I can focus completely and live in my head, let things build up all day and then just explode.

LD: What writing implement do you wield?

DV: I always draft by hand, in a notebook. There is something about moving a pen – either my Dr. Grip ballpoint (I have arthritis) or one of my fountain pens – that is more freeing to me than typing. I also like to cross things out, circle them, draw arrows. My drafts are a hot mess. After I draft, I retype/reline on the computer as a first revision step. I go through phases with notebooks – I love my Moleskins, but currently I am in love with these square, plastic-cover notebooks with three sections I found at Target.

LD: What is your favorite exercise that gets the words flowing?

DV: I write a quote or a song lyric all the way down the left margin of a page (one word per line) and use those single words to start new lines. This exercise helps when I am sitting down with an absolute blank slate, and it often gives me at least the kernel of a big idea I want to address or a turn of phrase that I really like. Either way, most of the time the exercise is not a waste. While I was working on my manuscript, I often used this exercise to find new language to link to the theme. If I am sitting down with a specific idea, I concentrate on free writing, trying to shut out my internal editor, filling as many pages as possible. Then I can return and find what is true, what has music. Sometimes, as with my chapbook of Pioneer Wife poems, I do quite a bit of research first, which leads to drafting.

LD: Let’s talk about your writing soundscape. Do you listen to music? Cafe rumblings? White noise? Utter silence?

DV: I am probably the only writer I know that does NOT like the “writing in a café” scene at all. I get too distracted by the noise, the movement, plus I’m cheap and don’t drink coffee, so I don’t like to spend a lot of money to sit and have tea or a soda I could easily have at home. When I’m drafting, I prefer white noise or instrumental music. (My favorites are instrumental indie rock bands like Explosions in the Sky, God is An Astronaut, and MaybeSheWill.) If I am revising, I need silence – I often revise aurally, so music is a distraction at that point.

LD: Do you believe in “writer’s block”?
Donna's writing space: a private cafe with free Diet Coke

DV: Absolutely not. Of course, there are patches where the poems I have the time and energy to produce are not at the quality level I would like, but writer’s block (in my opinion) is a convenient excuse. I can write every day – it just may not be good. Peter Murphy, who runs the wonderful Poetry and Prose Winter Getaway in New Jersey every January, sends poets out every morning of the conference with the charge to go “write a shitty first draft.” Everyone can do that – and most of the time, when you just write something, anything, there will be something there to learn from or think about later. Get words on paper – that’s how all good writing begins.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

LitShare: Heinous Tasks, Literary Decor, and Maybe We're All Martians

Sandra Beasley has compiled a fabulous list of poems about the body.

Molly Spencer teaches us something about the sacredness of writing time and when it's ok to interrupt that sacred time with banana bread.

Goodreads giveaway for Diane Lockward's book The Crafty Poet: A Portable Workshop.

How and why you should make a Heinous Tasks Table.

Fun book-related gifts, such as a bookshelf chair or paper-scented perfume.

Best New Poets announced their Top 50 for 2013. Congrats to Weave Magazine contributors, Michael Boccardo and Rochelle Hurt!

We might be part-Martian.

Check out Kamilah Aisha Moon book short for She Has a Name on Vimeo.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Writers on the Writing Process: An Interview with poet Teresa Schartel Narey

Teresa Schartel Narey
Teresa Schartel Narey's poetry and book reviews have appeared or are forthcoming in wicked alice, No Tokens, The New Yinzer, Poets' Quarterly, The Mom Egg, and elimae, among others.  She is a recipient of an Academy of American Poets University Prize.  She lives in Pittsburgh with her husband Daniel.

Laura Davis: Describe the process of making a recent poem or story. Lightning? Slow-dripping faucet? How long did you work on it? 

Teresa Schartel Narey: I am not sure what the correct analogy would be here, but I can tell you the last poem I wrote did not come out in one sitting. They rarely do. My husband and I were on vacation in Maine this summer, and I started to think about my family’s first attempt at vacationing when I was kid. That story is ripe with emotion, so like most of my poems, it began as a journal entry (see photo below), also known as “day 1” of my writing process. I tried to recall the event with just basic details—who, what, where, when, why, how—and then when I started to write the poem (day 2), I filled in the rest—emotions, inner-thoughts, dialogue, etc. In general, after a poem is written, I let it rest for a few days, maybe even longer if I struggled writing it. A struggle means I journal again, specifically about why writing the poem is hard for me and what I thought would happen in the poem versus what actually did. Usually this helps with revising the poem. In this case, I finished the poem without struggling, though I still have a phrase bolded because I might want to refine it at some point.

LD: How do you decide that you are finished working on a story, essay, or poem?

TSN: I always have a story to tell with my poems, so when the story is told, I know the poem is finished.  Also, the poem is finished when every word counts, and I have not forced the language of the poem to make a point or ended with a ta-da moment.

LD: How long have you been writing?

TSN: I have been writing since third grade, so about 21 years.  When I was nine, I read a poem in Highlights that was written by a girl my age.  I thought, If she can do it, so can I.  It is also when I learned that “great writers steal,” because I pretty much reused parts of her poem to write one of my own for a school assignment.

LD: Let’s talk about your writing soundscape. Do you listen to music? Cafe rumblings? White noise? Utter silence? 

TSN: When I write, I listen to wordless music and especially avoid recognizable tunes.  I do not want another artist’s lyrics taking over my poems or interrupting my thoughts so much that I am focusing more on the music than my poems.  With that said, I have been listening to Penguin Café Orchestra or Chopin while I write. 

LD: Beverage of choice?

TSN: I am obsessed with tulsi tea at the moment, especially tulsi masala.  It is a spicy herbal tea that has a calming effect and really helps me clear my head.  Definitely a winner in my book, especially when it is time to write.

Teresa Schartel Narey's journal excerpt