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In a week like this–in this week–it’s hard to think about writing, and then the news of Leonard Cohen’s passing.

This morning, Advice to Writers sent out this quote:

“I can’t discard anything unless I finish it. So I have to finish the verses that I discard. So it takes a long time. I have to finish it to know whether it deserves to survive in the song. So in that sense, all the songs take a long time. And although the good lines come unbidden, they’re anticipated. And the anticipation involves a patient application to the enterprise.”

LEONARD COHEN

One of the most formative songs of my youth was Suzanne.

Thank you, Mr. Cohen, for your music and for the reminder–in writing and in so much more.

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From today’s Advice to Writers:

“Creativity is inexhaustible. Experiment, play, throw away. Above all be confident enough about creativity to throw stuff out. If it isn’t working, don’t cut and paste – scrap it and begin again.” JEANETTE WINTERSON

I confess: I cut and paste. Mostly cut, although I’m trying to learn new ways to paste—or to move and transform. But start completely over? Maybe sometimes, but then I mine all versions to patch something together—and sometimes that works, or I think it does.

I play at pushing words around, play at line breaks, but that play could become pushing past my boundaries. And even though everything is saved on paper or on the computer, I still feel like I’m stepping off the cliff. I guess that’s the point—step of the cliff.

How about you? Do you experiment with a deleting there, inserting here? Or do you sweep it all away and start fresh? Does it depend on the project? Or the mood you’re in?

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I still think about Benjamin Grossberg’s comment that, as I heard it, paraphrased, the writing reveals the subject (I’m always struggling with what to write about). This afternoon, an epiphany. It’s not that the writing, in one session (I’m so naïve) brings up the subject, but that the writing brings up more writing. Whatever is revealed comes to the surface over time.

So long, instant gratification.

After getting off work, I slipped out to the front porch and tried to write. It was mostly “meh” (if that’s dated already, you probably know what I mean anyway). But when I came back inside, I got two more ideas and something to research.

The act of writing—wait, I also read from the newest issue of POETRY before I even started, and I will say any day of the week that reading inspires writing—the act of writing might just be a warm-up, but it can get me to the real writing. It’s writing as throat-clearing. And when it doesn’t feel good, when it doesn’t jumpstart something wonderful, or something that can become wonderful, it might contain an image, a line, that will shine elsewhere, later.

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We hear it over and over again–rejection comes with the territory. Writers get tons of them—drawers, bathroom walls, whole houses of rejections, or now megabytes and gigabytes of rejections in email. We need to have thick skins.

True, but this is also true. Rejections still hurt–whether it’s like a pinprick, a stubbed toe, a hangnail, a paper cut, or a more serious gash, there is that bit of pain.

This year, I’ve been trying to submit much more than in the past, aiming for 100 submissions—or even 100 rejections. At the rate I’m going, the latter is close to the former. And if all those rejections are toughening up my hide, they still hurt. They accrue—the weight of it, of them. I start to wonder whether I should even bother, whether any of my work is going to get accepted or whether I’ve hit a slack patch, a garden of tiny knives.

This is to say that if you’re at any time feeling discouraged, I’m with you. I understand that it’s hard. Together, we’ll keep learning and growing, writing our best and sending it out. We can look at the poems that come back as perhaps commentary, perhaps a chance to make that work better. We can remind ourselves that this is not the end of the world. We can remind ourselves that the important thing really is the writing, the act, the practice. But we don’t have to pretend that it’s easy every day.

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WP_20160817_001 (169x300)There used to be a fence attached to this gate.

One day, I noticed that the fence had disappeared, but the gate stood alone.

This morning, while my husband was working on home maintenance, he asked whether I was attached to the gate, or whether he could take it down.

“It’s a metaphor,” I said. “I’m not sure yet to what, but it’s a metaphor.”

He said, “Okay, you can keep the metaphor.” He is understanding, and he understands that he is married to a poet.

I need to understand that if I use a gate in a poem as a metaphor, you’re going to see the gate first.

I recently brought to a workshop a poem called “Self-Storage.” First, I had other titles involving cows or the absence of cows and an abundance of buttercups. I was thinking about storage and hit upon the idea of self-storage, then quickly looked up Rebecca Hoogs’s marvelous poem (in her book by the same name), to make sure that it was different enough to avoid any idea that I could possibly, ever, copy (I couldn’t and wouldn’t, and if you haven’t read her book yet, there’s no time like now).

Okay, that might have been a digression.

Back to it: I meant the idea of storage in a metaphorical way (I talk about a cardboard box in the closet), but people immediately—and understandably—pictured the actual rows of units with the steel doors that roll up. Of course they did. We haven’t even gotten into the poem, and that’s what I’ve given them.

What I learned: The metaphor jumps off from the physical (just as a simile does), so I need to be sure that I’m putting people where I want them to jump.

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