“Look, I’m trying to give myself goosebumps, okay?
Find the truth inside me and put it on display!”
Sometimes I don’t write a lot. I know some folks call that writer’s block.
I just call it my process. It comes out when it’s ready to I guess.
I don’t wanna let nobody down so
here’s some new shit, you tell me how it sounds.
I ain’t tryin’ to be difficult and all, shit.
It just hurts too bad to try and force it.”
I’ve seem to be hitting writer’s block far too often now. My grade in my creative writing class is suffering because i don’t turn in anything because i’m never really satisfied with anything i do. all my good ideas seem to turn into bad ones once i write it down. How do you get pass writers block?
You turn off your inner critic. You do not listen to your inner police force. You ignore the little voices that tell you that it’s all stupid, and you keep going.
Your grade isn’t suffering because your writing is bad, it’s suffering because you aren’t finishing things and handing them in.
So, finish them and hand them in. Even if a story’s lousy, you’ll learn something from it that will be useful as a writer, even if it’s just “don’t do that again”.
You’re always going to be dissatisfied with what you write. That’s part of being human. In our heads, stories are perfect, flawless, glittering, magical. Then we start to put them down on paper, one unsatisfactory word at a time. And each time our inner critics tell us that it’s a rotten idea and we should abandon it.
If you’re going to write, ignore your inner critic, while you’re writing. Do whatever you can to finish. Know that anything can be fixed later.
Remember: you don’t have to be brilliant when you start out. You just have to write. Every story you finish puts you closer to being a writer, and makes you a better writer.
Blaming “Writer’s Block” is wonderful. It removes any responsibility from the person with the “block”. It gives you something to blame, and it sounds fancy.
But it’s probably more honest to think of it as a combination of laziness, perfectionism and Getting Stuck. If you’re being lazy, don’t be. If you’re being a perfectionist, don’t be. And if you’re stuck, figure out where the story went off the rails, or what you got wrong, or where you need to go deeper, or what you need to add to make it work, and then start writing again.
5 Personal Maxims on Poetry
- Empathy above all else. Be able to stand in someone else’s skin, be it for compassion or to dissect strange or selfish motives. Study characteristics and circumstances to understand how they effect judgement for better or worse. If the devil is in the details, and the details are unknown, then there can be no exorcism of any kind. If you cannot see beyond your own views, values, needs and wants, do us all a favor, and do not write. Ever.
- “The concise artist waits for inspiration. The prolific artist waits for attention.” - Anonymous
- Editing. True courage and true art are in what we choose to cut out. Anyone can continue to add lines, stanzas, etc. Oftentimes, the bravest thing to do is to trim the excess and leave only what is needed.
- Restraint. As much as one strives to put as much passion into verse as possible, restraint must be practiced to avoid hyperbole. Self expression should never stoop to a self-indulgent, exhibitionist, therapy session. The reader/listener must be taken into account.
- Clarity. ”Don’t be vague or gamey, spit it out” - Peter Jay Shippy
I wrote down this list in a journal a few years back. I do my best to abide by it and I fully admit that item 3 is the most difficult.
Last summer I read some poems at DBAMfest in Brockton. The last one I read was “Between Streetlights and Stars”, the title poem of my upcoming chapbook. About halfway through reading it, I felt that draft of the poem to be a bit long. A few days later I read it aloud to myself with a stopwatch going and noticed it took a whopping five minutes; way too long for such a high energy piece.
Put on any album from your music collection and play the fastest paced song on there. Nine times out of ten, it will also be the shortest song on the album, usually clocking in at about 2 1/2 to 3 minutes. If it comes in at 4 minutes, it’s most likely because it had a slow part somewhere, such as the intro, bridge, or outro. The same logic and creative economy of songwriting also exists in poetry; the higher energy or pace, the shorter the poem. “Light The City” for example takes me about 3 minutes to read aloud. Note: by read aloud, I mean perform; changing pace, volume, inserting pauses, etc.
So when I returned to work on “Between…”, I had to face some hard choices. A lot of work went into adding more lines and stanzas to make clarify the narrative, but the poem felt like a fast paced song that went on for too long, wearing out its welcome for both performer and audience. A few weeks ago, I cut about 100 words out. Last week, I cut out an additional 50. That last bit was a stanza that made me proud, but when I was honest with myself, it was not a vital part of the poem. Lines with strong musicality and vivid images are important, but so is keeping a poem short enough for crowded open mic where everyone gets a very strict 3 minute slot. I don’t know if I’ll be able to get this down to exactly three minutes, but I at least want to be able read it and not feel exhausted halfway through. Achieving a balance between what we want from a poem on paper and what we want from a poem being read a loud is a tricky thing.
This leads me to a piece of advice: should you be brave enough to cut a line or stanza that you worked on heavily only to find it not working out: save it somewhere for future use. For example, I keep a separate file labeled “fragments”. This is where I put lines, stanzas, and concepts that didn’t work out but were difficult to part with. It hurts to cut, but that doesn’t mean what we cut cannot be used elsewhere. Save that line, that stanza that made you glow with triumph when you first wrote it, give it a chance to find a purpose somewhere else.
A movie about one of my all time favorite poems. James Franco was perfect as Allen Ginsberg.
I understand how some people were put off by the animated sequences that came on when sections of the poem were being read aloud. However, I thought those sequences have great potential to help novice poetry readers better understand what Ginsberg was saying. In a way, I feel jealous of people who have never read Howl or are about to for the first time. This film makes an excellent companion piece.
Also, Jon Hamm from Mad Men stars as Ferlinghetti’s lawyer Jake Ehrlich who was the inspiration for the show Perry Mason.