Hi friends! I had a wonderful, busy, wildly jetlagged AWP—I told one person I felt like I was having an out of body experience, and he was like, yeah, I was getting that vibe; poets are the best—and now I’m in Florida, where I’m teaching a workshop for Murphy Writing’s Getaway to Write in Florida.
Earlier this month, I shared that my March goal is just to stay connected to the writing part of my brain, and I’m thinking about that again in this busy season.
For Electric Literature, I wrote a craft essay about how Jenny Odell’s work on time and attention matter for writers, and I included a bunch of little experiments, some of which will be familiar to longtime readers here. (Her new book, Saving Time, is so good, and an excellent companion to How to do Nothing.) In the opening to that essay, I wrote that
they’re not prompts in the conventional sense—as in, follow these directions and you’ll produce a draft of a new poem—but rather invitations or perhaps experiments, ways of creating space for your creative spirit. You might think of them as ways to, as one participant in a workshop I taught recently put it, leave the door open. They might be, as the poet Keith Leonard put it, when we talked about Odell’s work, “little rope bridges into poetry-land.”
So I shared a couple ways that I try to “leave the door open” (I loved that phrase; thank you, Abena!) to creative work—but I wanted to turn that question over to you all as well.
My answer: morning pages, which I prefer to call my "three pages of garbage," and as many no-phone, real thing walks as I can manage.
I try to remember that the creative process isn’t just about one project or a specific type of writing, and not even just writing. I switch genre or style to capture whatever bubbles up at the moment. Sometimes that might even extend to immersing myself in a more involved recipe in the kitchen, or pulling out my old muffin tin filled with favorite beads and string. It helps to remember I can simply knot something into being for the sake of beauty. Working with my hands frees up my mind to work its own stuff without me forcing it, so there is fertile ground there when I put pen to paper again.
Ooh I have so many. I am a writer and songwriter focusing mostly on music these days. Some big ones:
1. Put my tools in my way. My piano is in the middle of my living room and I wander by and play/write just because I see it all the time. My recording setup is in the spare room and I resist that work like crazy, but if I leave the door open and see it I am much more likely to sit down. Just putting my tools in my way keeps me in a creative zone way more than discipline ever did.
2. Listen to/read/watch stuff about creativity a lot. I listen to two podcasts that go through people’s work (one is authors one is directors), and yeah they’re fun and funny, but also they are frequently talking about the creative process. It’s not directly “do this!”, but rather it feels like company - “people are being creative, why not join?” Filling the well generally does this too.
3. If I have a project I’m working on, I try and just surround myself with it, without forcing myself to work. If I chose the project then it matters to me, and my innate motivation will take hold at some point, as long as I am surrounded by my ideas and plans for it. (A deadline helps with this, haha)
4. Walks in nature, as many have said.
5. Driving and singing. I have so many ideas while driving and singing! Often have to pull over to make notes 😄
I love this prompt, love reading others’ ways in!
I took a wonderful class with a teacher who advocated setting aside 20 minutes of "studio time" every week, just to write or create or whatever. It's high stakes in the sense that it's in my calendar, it's a weekly commitment, I can't break it. But it's low stakes in that, well, it's 20 minutes. The goal is not output or quality or even quantity. It's habit. From those 20-minute parcels, I started my own Substack! :)
I take photos or jot down a couple of lines for a poem that come into my mind in between all the busyness of daily life so I can come back to it later. I also try and read a poem or two before bed or in the morning to spark ideas and get into that creative space.
Two things come to mind:
1. Lower my expectations... and then lower them some more. Somedays I aim for 100 words of pure garbage because that is at least 100 words on a page.
2. I try to remember that I have always had fertile and fallow times when it comes to writing and that the fallow times serve a purpose too.
I'm with you on those no-phone walks, Nancy. For me, taking a walk or driving or doing laundry without listening to anything leaves the door open for my mind to wander into the creative realm. I'm such a podcast-junkie, but I've been trying to cut back because, as Julie Cameron says, if you're always filling your mind with other people's words it doesn't leave room for your own.
In busy times, I micro-write. Jot notes, impressions, images usually on their own sheet of paper with enough detail to act as a prompt for a later longer session. This helps me keep a toe in the water, not lose those salient seeds, and also lets me be more fully immersed in whatever of life has captured my time. Although I have stepped back from my "practice", I am still tethered by the ideas I'm collecting.
Honestly, I find that continuing to read, whether that's full-length books, articles online (or in print), or poems, really helps me to keep that creative door wide open and absorb all the things I love about writing.
I write notes of poem ideas in my phone then put them into my computer as poems-in-waiting. All these poems-in-waiting are loose, in a list, in my poetry folder in my computer. I open one according to what feels right, write stuff, discard stuff, write stuff and eventually I have a finished poem.
I talk to my plants.