How prose writers can honor National Poetry Month
Pick up a pencil, not a laptop
I think of myself as an accidental poet. I have written and published poems over the last 10 years, but I’ve never studied it to the extent that my serious, hard-core poet friends have. Sure, I took a (great!) poetry workshop and it helped me a lot, but if I were hard-pressed to know why my poems worked, I wouldn’t be able to tell you. I just know that learning to write poetry has made me a better fiction writer.
Poetry, for me, is an intuitive process, very different from my work in fiction and prose, in which everything I do is analytical and purposeful and organic to my nature. I come from a storytelling family, so that has to have had some effect on me. I also continue to have trouble finding poetry that resonates with me. For such a short form, I find it wears me out, all the same. I like a puzzle as much as anybody else, but let’s keep it to jigsaws, crosswords and sudokus, I say. Give me access.
I don’t fault anyone but myself for not turning to poetry like a flower to the sun. I’m not, have never been, a voracious reader of verse. I definitely approach poetry as “either I like it or I don’t,” which, it’s safe to say, is the way most nonpoets approach poetry, especially if they’re not ardent readers of it to begin with.
But one thing I admire about poets is their relatively low-tech writing practice. Most poets I know can write poetry wherever they are, whenever they are. A pen, a notebook, and a moment is all it takes to get them writing. Prose writers, on the other hand, are keyboard junkies (to be fair, if I hand-inscribed everything I ever wrote, I would have a terrible case of writer’s cramp!) who need outlets, laptops, perhaps a mouse and a thumb drive, to get their work achieved. Not all prose writers are like this: I am working with a couple of clients right now who hand-write their drafts before typing them in, which I think is a really great practice. It just never seems like an option for me, perhaps because I have so many files to work on at any one time, and to pack those babies around with me in notebook form would require a heavy-duty off-trail baby stroller for transport!
I do, however, start all my main revisions with printed pages and a red pen (actually, several different ink colors to mark different things). And the thing is, I love the feeling of putting ink on the page (versus toner). It reminds me of the old days, when I was in high school and college, and all I had was a manual typewriter. Everything started out in ink, and penmanship was artful and mattered.
So, to all you prose writers out there… let’s try to make April low-tech writing month. Do everything we can with paper and pen; leave the laptop out of the creative process, if possible. Print things out, apply the ink. Think of all the possibilities… go for a walk, write in the park… do some characters sketches on your morning public transportation commute… keep notes on a dialog while at your kids’ baseball games this weekend… do it all without an Internet connection… enjoy the freedom you get from a spring storm power outage!
Creative commons image: "Ballpoint pen writing" by Daniel Schwen (2008). This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic license.