Look, we all know that everyone has their own way of writing their stories. I can’t speak for everyone. But I know that one day I decided I was going to become a full time author. Before then, inspiration came and went like a summer breeze, always welcome, always sought after, but nearly impossible to pin down. I wrote inconsistently. The stuff was good, for an unrefined writer, but easily forgotten in the wake of a new idea.
When I decided that writing was the only acceptable career, it became apparent that the only way I would get anywhere was to leave the air conditioning of my house, metaphorically speaking, and trudge through the heat, whether there was a summer breeze or not. Writing was no longer my hobby. I was passionate about the final product, but the hard work it took to get there was less than pleasant. It is a job, to me, and that means it isn’t always easy or fun.
The thing about the written word is that it is supposed to be used as a tool to understand how the world works. Whether by contrast, as seen through fantasy and science fiction, or by exploration, as seen through history books and scientific texts, reading and writing is supposed to connect us with the bigger picture. At the same time, books are so long, and fictional ones certainly require so much creative thinking, that they have to do more than process. They have to be for the big stuff, the complex problems, the things you can’t just figure out by sitting in your room for a few hours, thinking.
I found this relevant image on Pinterest earlier and will leave it now for you.
So what’s an author like me to do to figure out how to deal with the day-to-day problems of the world? Problems that are too fleeting to focus a whole story on, but too big to let them just fly away? And how am I going to let loose the creative whimsy that made writing in general feel so good in the first place?
I started writing poems, friends. Not many. Not often. But they matter to me. If I’m feeling helpless or overwhelmed, or, hell, if I’m woke up feeling great and I don’t want to forget how that sat in my heart, I turned it into a metaphor. You can remember things so well when they’re wrapped up in a metaphor. I followed my forms, tweaking the words until they’re just right, gave my troubles their due.
Problems become shareable when they’re turned into poetry, I think. It turns the selective “me” into the collective “us” by asking the poet to broaden the experience for a wider audience without pulling the punch when it comes to the emotions that sparked the poem to begin with. It’s beautiful.
But it’s beautiful because it is only a hobby for me. I don’t have to feel like I’m waging a war against my creative imperfections. I give myself some space to make a few adjustments in pencil, and then I write it out in ink. You cannot take back what is written in pen. The poem is what it is, and it is enough.
Here is one of my more recent poems. I put it in a sketchbook using a calligraphy pen, and some pencils to fill in the blank space.
“The Snake Ponders Its Lot in Life”
Oh ancient reptile, teller of lies and king of deceit,
You should have looked atop your head
Before believing so thoroughly that the dark crown was real.
Know that only you choose what lies you believe.
I’m not going to lie, I’m particularly pleased with the crown on this one. I’m not much of an artist, and never have been, but when I first started working on this series of poetry, it didn’t feel right to leave the bottom of the page unmarked. It felt clever, smudging the drawing of the crown so that it appeared both here and not here. And this poem was hardest to pin the lines down. But I did it, and am content with it.
I wish I could write poetry more frequently, but this is not my career. It’s something to do to pass the time, and a way to create new pieces when the inspiration strikes while remaining faithful to the much longer work I’m trying so hard to get just right.
Fellow authors, I’m not saying you should turn to poetry while you work on your big, important pieces. That might not be your thing. After all, oddly enough, short stories and I just don’t get along. But maybe they’ll be your thing. Or maybe you’ll find joy in quick sketches on rough paper, or folding squares into little animal shapes, or turning yarn into a lovely scarf or something. Just don’t get stuck on one creative piece. Your heart will thank you for it.