It’s been a long time since I had a book out. This saddens me, but is also freeing. For one thing, when you don’t have a new book out, you don’t obsessively auto-Google for new reviews. And then if you hit a bad review, you get briefly depressed and angry and vow to just put your nose down and write and never auto-Google again. And last time I published a book, we didn’t even have Goodreads and Twitter and stuff.
I’m on Draft 8 of my “new” poetry manuscript at the moment. Draft 9 by Christmas, I hope. Draft 10 and I think I’ll be ready to approach my publisher. I say “my” publisher in that they published my last two books, but there is nothing to say that they will publish this one. I say “new” manuscript only in that it’s newer than my previous work (mostly; it does contain a few old salvaged parts). I’ve been working on it since roughly 2006, when I holed up for a month in a farmhouse/museum in Eastern Iceland (that was 2006, right?) and wrote a bunch of stuff about the death of my father the previous year.
Between 2006 and now, I did a whole lot of things, including write and abandon a novel, learn how to teach, and have a baby (more or less in that order.) The baby is now in school. And I just bought her a book called My First Kafka. At first, instead of sleeping when the baby slept, I scribbled Mommy Poems (few of those have survived). Holing up in farmhouses in Iceland (or Scottish castles, where I worked on the previous book) is no longer an option, though I did manage to carve out two weeks to live in a dorm room in Vancouver last summer, and hope to again next summer. (Note to students of an artistic bent: whatever you do, start seeking out residency opportunities as soon as you can! Don’t wait—the window closes. I have no doubt that it opens again someday, but it closes pretty hard for a while.)
It’s been A Difficult Manuscript. I made big, big changes each round from about Drafts 3 through 6. For a while I was obsessed with Objectum Sexuals and worked on getting them in the manuscript. For a while I was compiling found poems off of Twitter. Then I decided that what I needed to fit all this stuff together was cyborgs. Yes, cyborgs. Some of that has stayed, and some of it has gone. I got a lot of inspiration and a 13-page poem out of last summer’s Fairy Tales, Monsters, and the Genetic Imagination show that ran at the WAG.
I took creative writing courses whenever I could in school for a lot of reasons, but the main one was that they gave me windows, windows to do the work that I cared about the most, but that it was hard, even then, to carve out time for. That I’m even blogging about this manuscript shows that I’m feeling good about it (for now), and being close to “finishing” something gives me more motivation to create my own windows. (I put “finishing” in quotation marks, because, even if I start sending this off a couple of drafts from now, there are likely still several drafts to go publisher-side, assuming I even find a publisher.)
Windows to create new work are also one of the reasons I’ve enrolled in my MFA. Someday, I will have to come up with a window-carving strategy that does not involve paying tuition. “Get up two hours before everyone else and write before they wake up” is the conventional wisdom trotted out for writers, but since my daughter frequently gets up at 5 a.m., and I frequently go to bed at midnight, this strategy does not work for me. (I do know from experience that my most productive hours for writing are from about 12 midnight to 4 a.m., which are unfortunately the best hours – sometimes the only hours—for sleeping in my world.)
A better piece of wisdom than the “sacrifice two more hours of sleep” nugget is to remember that writing is not just writing. It is research, reading, and living, because you need to do those things to “provide content” (to co-opt that heartless word for what creative people do)—to provide ideas, thought, depth–for what you write. So I’m trying to look back on the past seven (!) years not as a time with few windows, but as time when I created a whole lot of content.