The Teddy Roosevelt Writing Process Blog

Here I am, weeks late, working on my Writing Process Blog Tour post. The path this far was circuitous. It was weird and involved delays caused by vomiting, Spring Break, sinus problems, and taxation. I cooked a homemade dinner for twenty-seven people. I flew to Bozeman, Montana where I visited my son and watched overweight cowboys check their text messages and drink beer. I fed nine mice to three snakes and wrote a love poem about a spider I used to keep as a pet. I swore a lot, and I fell (okay, jumped) off of the sugar wagon. I gained four pounds. I wrote a poem about kitchen implements. I did a lot of bookkeeping (not very well), and I spent a lot of time worrying about my three children. They are twenty, seventeen, and eight, so the variety of issues at my imagination’s disposal is truly mind-blowing.

For the first time in nearly two weeks, I am alone in the house. I am sitting at my writing table. Yes, oh, yes, I am sitting at my writing table, looking out the window at my garden, ready to answer the four Writing Process Blog Tour questions, but it is 11:35, and today my eight-year old has AFHD (Another Fucking Half Day), so in twenty-five minutes my time will be up.

And that is how my writing process works. Or doesn’t work. Or works sometimes, when the stars align, and the two children remaining at home are required to attend school at the same times on the same days, and it isn’t tax season or the holiday season or Mid-Winter Break or Spring Break or the summer, and no one is sick, and inspiration collides, miraculously, with opportunity. I sit at my writing table, during school hours, and I write.

Sometimes I free write to get started. Sometimes I find a jumping off place in an older free write or journal entry or on a scrap of paper I’ve been carrying around in my purse. Sometimes a poem will have occurred to me, nearly whole, on my morning run, and I have only to write it down. Sometimes I am stuck and spend my whole writing time revising or submitting or watching Apple movie trailers. If I am really stuck, I read poems out loud to myself. Once I’ve found the door to a new poem, I work on it longhand, and, after I have a draft, I type it onto the computer where revisions will take place. While I write and also while I revise, I talk to myself out loud, and I read what I have written over and over and over again in a big, bold voice. Which is why I can’t work when my children are home. When all goes well, I make two submissions and start on two new poems every week. When all goes well, I have new poem drafts tucked into my purse and can work on them while my youngest has her drum lessons or gets her teeth cleaned. All does not go well all that often, but it’s important to me to have a weekly goal, an intention, a groove to set myself back into after each interruption.

Right now, I am working on submitting my first book manuscript. I am in year three of this project, and it is a horror show. Much worse than submitting to magazines, a project I am always working on and what I used to think was the definition of “horror show.” I have recently started blogging, so I am working on that. Working on blogging mostly consists of compiling long lists of possible blog topics and then staring at them, unable to bring myself to blog. And I am always, always, working on poems. Writing them. Revising them. Thinking about them. Throwing them out the window.

Judging from the responses I receive to my poems, I think my work differs in a few primary ways from the work of other poets. I have an unusually direct, bracingly candid tone, and I am willing to write about absolutely anything. Nothing embarrasses or shocks me, and there is no subject matter too weird or incendiary for me to be interested in it. Additionally, my work is much more accessible than that of many of my contemporaries. It is very stylish right now to be elliptical, opaque, or abstract. My poems are none of those things. I am a person who finds the transparent world strange and captivating enough. I am also a person who treasures very clear communication. I want to know what someone is saying to me. I want others to know what I am saying to them. I want the experiences of writing and of reading to be experiences of overwhelming intimacy.

I have wondered, often, why I write what I write and why I cannot write what I cannot write. Why am I incapable of writing a series of elliptical poems based on the work of Emily Dickinson? Or an entire book of poems about Baton Rouge, or beekeeping? Why am I compelled to make such goddamned sense all the time? The truth is, I don’t think we get to choose what obsesses us, what brings us time and again to the blank page, what keeps us willing to face the relentless failures and the lack of recompense inherent in a life spent writing poetry. I don’t think we choose our voices, or our tones, or our styles, or our predilections.

It helps me, in all aspects of my somewhat crazy life, to keep this Teddy Roosevelt quote firmly in mind: Do what you can, with what you have, where you are. That is my philosophy and my process. I write what I write, in the voice that is mine, in the space my life allows. That is all. That is enough.