If “writing” meant “therapy,” then yesterday, I had one of those breakthrough days.
I’ve been chronicling my adventures in genre-switching for a couple months now, publishing an essay or column here and there, and reading like a fiend. Memoir, essays and essay collections, even a couple novels.
(Seriously, I have missed reading. Reading is my luxury. Since I was little baby Stacia devouring The Babysitters Club books, the stories of Edgar Allan Poe, and anything about animals—often all on the same day. When life is crappy, and/or when you single-mom a toddler, reading is sometimes confined to cereal boxes or instructions for assembling a Big Wheel. Making time to read is everything, and it’s especially essential for me as I experiment in another genre.)
And I have dozens of ideas for essays, but I’ve been coming to realize that I’ve been trying to write essays with the same creative process I’ve always used to write poems, which is:
- Be overtaken by an image, a line, a phrase, a title, an idea, then
- Open Notes app on phone, quickly type/misspell idea
- Change approximately 17 diapers and cook half a dozen meals before returning to Notes
- Spend a week trying to figure out what my note meant (21st century equivalent of not being able to read one’s own handwriting. Bc handwriting?!)
- Finally remember, hopefully just as child is drifting off to sleep.
- Write ass off on aforementioned image/line/phrase/title/idea until orgasm, er, I mean, um, until satisfied with stopping and calling it a draft because a little tickle in my wrists lets me know I’ve said what I want to say.
- Show Teneice, which is like serving her very undercooked eggs. Forever apologies, Teneice.
- Change whatever Teneice says to change, 9 times out of 10. Spend a few days feeling stupid. Then revise drastically and show her again. Comment on several poems Teneice sent me, because this works both ways, yo.
- Revise more. Repeat step 9 as needed.
- Send Teneice love texts. Give begrudging thanks to Google for chat function so T and I can workshop each other daily. Maybe send out “finished” poem.
Some of these steps must change (for starters, this kid could be interested in toilet training…) I’ve resisted that change because: Respect the Process. But it’s not Respect THE Process.
I still experience #1. Daily. I don’t always get to the Notes app or a pen (handwriting?!). I can say, “I want to write a poem about this dog” and sit down and engage that part of my brain that after 15 years of seriously writing poetry almost unconsciously sees and articulates metaphors and drafts poems in 20 minutes or less. I can hold all that will go into This One Poem in my head at once. To write something longer, something in plain speak, something narrative and “true,” I am more self-conscious. I can say, “I want to write an essay about this dog,” but my brain responds, “What will it be about? What is the theme? What is the message? Will it be lyrical or narrative or journalistic or bloggy?”
Sometimes my brain says, “Why don’t you just write a poem about the damn dog?”
This is because I’m new at nonfiction, and it’s harder for me. I know how to write a poem about a dog. I could write seven drastically different poems about the same dog. Someone else might be able to write 50. That’s not the point. I don’t have a switch in my brain yet for long narrative arcs. I’m waiting for faceted gemstones when I should be getting out my hammer and cloth and doing the faceting myself.
Instead of needing to have my idea fully carved out as a narrative in my mind before sitting down to write an essay, I need to move from #1 straight to the page and see where I go, the way I did when I started writing poems—the way that process has become automatic.
Automatic. I need to free write. In prose. Daily. Like, every day in June. Revelation!