Random Writing Rants, Writers on Writing

The writing process: A reflection

National Poetry Month Display @ Forest Hills
Image by mySAPL via Flickr

Today marks the first day of the last week of the fall semester. I just finished grading a huge stack of essay booklets from my written communications course and will be grading research papers next weekend. I also just submitted my final poem of the semester for the course I’m taking on writing poetry for children and young adults. And now, it’s time to write my final reflection paper of the semester. The topic for this paper is the writing process.

So, what have I learned about my writing process? For one thing, I can now boil it all down to a few simple steps:

  1. Read. Read, read, read, and read some more. That’s right. To be a good writer, you must read. A lot. I’ve heard this statement from so many writers, but its importance never truly took root in my brain until I took this poetry class. One thing I found this semester is that it was almost impossible for me to sit down and write poetry without first spending some time reading poetry. Whenever I had an assignment deadline pressing, that familiar fear that I would never get anything worth reading down on paper would quickly dissipate after reading a few good poems by someone else. Inevitably, the words of other writers get into my brain and twist themselves around into new ideas that I may then, often quite easily, regurgitate and knead into something worthwhile of my own.
  2. Write. That sounds simple enough, right? Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as it sounds. One of the hardest parts of writing is getting in the habit. I’ve learned that the successful writer must make a long-standing, uncancellable (yeah I know, I too am pretty sure that’s not a word. But I’m a writer: Unlike Sarah Palin, I can make up new words if I want to.) appointment to meet with her muse at a certain time each day. At first the muse will only show up once in a while, but once she sees you’re serious, she’ll begin to appear more regularly. Sure, you’ll write a lot of mindless drivel before anything good ever comes out, but that’s called paying your dues.
  3. Get feedback. Not just any feedback. Not just feedback from your best friend, your sister, the mailman who happened to drop by with a package as you were finishing up that last poem. No, you must get feedback from other writers, writers who are skilled and have experience in the genre you are writing. And most importantly, you must get regular feedback from people who are not afraid to tell you that your writing sucks when it does (and it often does.) But they can’t just tell you it sucks. No, they need to be able to tell you why it sucks, which arms must be amputated so it can live.
  4. Rewrite. If your poem is your baby, you must be prepared to amputate its limbs and sew on better ones if that’s what it takes to bring it to life. You have to accept that every first draft is only a rough draft, and often your final draft will in no way resemble what you first put down on paper.
  5. Embrace deadlines. Deadlines are my friends. Without a deadline looming, the heaps of clean laundry sitting next to the dryer, begging to be folded and put away, somehow grow in importance compared to the poems and stories waiting in my mind to be written. I need deadlines to force me to meet them. One of my greatest fears right now as a writer is that I will stop writing once I finish my professional writing program. I always start each school break with grand intentions of writing what I want to write rather than what my assignments dictate I write. But before I know it, the break is over, and I have nothing to show for it. This is something I must figure out if I want to continue calling myself a writer after graduation. I have to figure out how to set useful deadlines for myself and stick to them.
Writer Wordart
Image by secretagent007 via Flickr

I’ve learned far more about my own writing process in this course than any other course I’ve taken in the professional writing program at Mount Mary College. I’m just one more semester away from writing my thesis and am wishing I’d taken poetry sooner. But on the other hand, I may not have taken away as much from the experience if I had. I think back to when I took the novel writing class wistfully, knowing I didn’t get anywhere near as much out of it then as I would if I were to retake it now. I even wonder if I should put off graduation one more semester so I can retake it.

But I guess this just means that I have grown as a writer, and I feel blessed to be able to look back at how far I’ve come in the past 2 years. I can honestly say that I would be neither a writer nor a teacher right now if I had not decided to go through this program.


Special thanks goes out to my instructor this semester, poet JoAnn Early Macken.

2 thoughts on “The writing process: A reflection”

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