The primary way that I get ideas for the pieces I write is by reading the work of my favorite writers. I like to see the narrative decisions other writers make, as well as their uses of form and diction. Reading is a great way for me to find different techniques to appropriate (not copy) in my own writing. For instance, if I read a prose poem by Richard Siken about a bunch of people named Jeff that explores the theme of possibility, I might get an idea to write a prose poem about a fictional town where no one can speak that comments on the places where we derive significance. Some of my favorite writers are Kristopher Jansma, Donna Tartt, Anis Mojgani, and Sarah Kay.
When inspiration doesn’t come naturally, I go look for it, and that can take a variety of forms. Sometimes looking for inspiration means going on a hike in nature (how Romantic-with-a-capital-“r” of me), and sometimes it means exploring the streets of a new city. I believe there is so much to be found in the spaces around me whether it be in the plants overtaking a dilapidated wall downtown, street art on the side of a building, or an overheard conversation between two people in a coffee shop. Anything can be inspiration.
This is essential.
Write Write Write
Now that I have an idea, inspiration, and caffeine in my bloodstream, I can get to work. I like to write by hand to begin with, because it makes everything I write just a little more intentional than typing does. If I can tell that the piece is going to be a long one, then I’ll switch over to my computer.
After I’ve written as much of a piece as I can over a few sittings, I read through it, and then put it away for several weeks. During these weeks, I don’t look at it at all. I do this because I find it very difficult to revise something when I’m immersed in it. When a couple weeks have passed, I open my notebook to a blank sheet and try to rewrite the piece from memory. Because I haven’t seen the piece in a while, I tend to remember only the most important images and ideas. As a result, I know that these elements are essential to the interpretation of the piece, and I can discard the rest. Once I’ve done that, I write some more and repeat the process over again.
Once I feel like I’ve written everything that I possibly can, I take the piece to someone whose opinion I trust and let him or her read it and give feedback. When I need feedback, I take my work to my friend Caroline (pictured), because she isn’t afraid to hurt my feelings and tell me if something is stupid or doesn’t make any sense. That being said, she also tells me what about the piece works extremely well, and she entertains all of my ridiculous questions about my writing such as “Does this poem make you feel flowy?” or “When you read this, what color do you think of?” It’s also nice to have her tell me what she thinks the main points or themes of the piece are, so I can see if I’m effectively communicating what I’m trying to say. Since criticisms of writing are often highly subjective, I consider the feedback I receive and try to decide if I agree with it. If so, I make some changes and adjustments to the piece until I feel as though it’s finished (it never is).