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.

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