Friday, June 22, 2012

Prose or Poetry or Both

Even daVinci couldn't quite get things lined up
The topic of balancing work and art (whether writing or anything else) can hardly be summarized in just one short blog post.  Last time, I mentioned the patience we need to sustain the artistic self.  I think we can all agree such a quality is essential, but we also have to be careful.  While necessarily absorbed in other, primary obligations – to family, work, or what have you – we have to find a way to keep our skills and intuition alive. 

When I can’t write for a while, which happens fairly often if I’m deeply involved in teaching, I start getting itchy.  I can feel the sensation practically physically, it’s so strong…I realize that may sound a little weird.  Chalk it up to my hyperactive imagination! 

A feeling like that, however, can’t be totally ignored.  We can’t expect our artistic side to just shut up and go away for three weeks, or 7 months – even 40 years, as JulesPaige mentioned when she commented on my last post.  It will continue to prod us towards a creative outlay of some kind.  If we completely squash it I think we are almost blameworthy, in some small way, for ignoring our natural talent and drive. 

So what to do when only a moment here and there can be snatched for writing, when small toddlers, or teenagers, or report cards, or sick parents, or any of the other million and one possible duties completely consume our time?  My solution is poetry.

I consider myself a novelist.  I have written three full-length novels, and I’m within range of the end of another.  I enjoy almost more than anything the process of giving structure to a large plot and dimension to a full cast of characters.  I love the feeling of standing in the shower (my rather random favorite place to think about stories) and realizing that the inner logic of one of my characters ensures that he or she will behave in just the right way to compel the plot forward to its appropriate end.  There’s something beautiful and exhilarating about that. 

Writing a novel is a bit like building a city:  complex, slow, but amazing results!
However, up until now I have not distinguished myself by brevity in writing.  My first novel (granted it needs to be thoroughly reworked and shortened) is currently the somewhat stunning length of 205,000 words.  My second in its unedited state was 190,000, though I’m in the process of cutting it down and I suspect it will end up at around 130,000.  My third, also unedited, is 184,000.  I have been making conscious efforts to say more in fewer words, so my latest I estimate will be around 100,000 when I finish it, which is a far more manageable length.  My point, though, is that writing a 100,000-word piece of fiction, not to mention one twice that long, is extremely time-consuming.  I'm a fast writer, comparatively, but even so, I’ve devoted an average of fourteen months to the writing process of each story.  Also, that time-frame does not at all include the multiple edits I have to make afterwards. 

Whenever anyone is engaged in a project which takes a minimum of 14 months (let's be realistic - it's more like three years, editing included) to complete, there will inevitably be periods when it can’t be worked on, because other things come up instead.  Also, if you know in advance that you have to commit that much time to something, you may have to put it off and keep putting it off until you know, in good conscience, that you’ll have free time to devote to it. 

A poet appreciates the details.
That still leaves us with the question of how poetry saves the creative side of our personality in such a pinch.  My answer is that a poem can be blessedly and mercifully brief - at least, if I need it to be.  I can write a haiku, a mere three lines, encapsulating some tiny experience which strikes me on any given day, and then move on with my duties.  It may not be wholly satisfying, I admit.  If I’m in a busy spell of my life, I may still long for the freedom to devote hours to writing, so as to expend all my artistic energies – but at least I’ve let off a little steam and, in some small way, honed my skills and my vision of the world. 

Granted, very few are probably true poets:  we may lack finesse of language or a sense of rhythm or a perfect image of our experience.  However, jotting down a few words on the back of an envelope, or in a journal, or a word document kept for that purpose – even something so small (and seemingly ridiculous) as sorting photographs and finding an expressive title for each one – I believe these small efforts can sustain me as a writer, even when I’m too busy to do anything else. 

After days (even years) of waiting for the right moment to begin a magnum opus, if we have maintained the habit of small creative acts, surely we will find that our talents have been honed for a grand one.  We may even look back on the accumulated tiny efforts and discover we have already produced something great enough in itself. 


  1. Thank you for visiting and introducing me to your thought-provoking site. I shall be back to read more.

    1. Thank you for stopping buy and commenting! I am excited you think my posts are thought-provoking. I was also happy to be introduced to a new form of poetry when I visited your blog.