Follow the energy.
That’s the advice I most often give to writers. Sometimes I even follow it myself. The last few weeks, I’ve been following it to places I never thought I’d go. First place is poetry and second is revisiting my cancer experiences.
If I step back from my life and look at it from the outside, I find a few interesting things to note. My early taste in fiction was always science fiction – exclusively. I didn’t read anything outside that genre. If it didn’t have space ships or ray guns, I didn’t read or watch it. Over time I picked up a taste for fantasy works like The Lord of the Rings. I would have claimed at the time to have no interest in poetry or literature.
I wanted to be a science fiction writer and even tried to write a few pieces (and even attended a handful of writer’s workshops and conventions). I gave it a shot and I’ve been rejected by some of the best magazines in the business. And rightly so, the stories were terrible. I never wrote many and always seemed to have trouble coming up with ideas – suffering greatly from what some would call writer’s block.
Likely that “block” was due to the fact that I hadn’t figured out the writing process that now works for me.
A key to that process is writing energy. It’s hard to explain what that means, but it’s a combination of discipline, being inspired, being mentally ready and emotionally willing to take on a writing project. It’s also about turning off logical responses and following a feeling, an image or creative spark. When I look at work I’ve done that others call good, I can almost always recall there being something in my soul that drove me to write it. There was an energy to the words that just had to come out.
Yes, not a satisfying explanation but it’s the best I’ve got.
In my early desire to become a writer, I did a few things like attending workshops, reading writing books and eventually I went back to school and completed a degree in English. All the time thinking these activities would help me write good science fiction stories.
I learned a lot. Not only about writing and language but also about what it takes to write consistently and to overcome the block of my early writing attempts. I’ve found that the discipline of writing these blog entries once a week to be a great help. One of my early writing teachers told our workshop, “Writers write,” pointing out that you can’t get good at writing if you don’t ever put words to paper. I’ve found that just forcing myself to write something – even if it isn’t the next best-selling novel – helps me push my abilities just a little further.
As I learned more, I discovered that there was more to writing and story telling than my early aspirations had dreamed of. These days I rarely read science fiction and am more likely to read Shakespeare or something from the 19th century. My interests and tastes have expanded and now I find myself more interested in just telling a story.
I’ve also discovered a taste for the abstract and the condensed language of poems. I love images. I like a piece of writing that builds a picture in my brain. Poetry often does that. Perhaps it’s more than that – it’s about telling a story, building an image, creating an emotion, sharing a feeling – that’s become of interest to me. We all have stories to tell and the best stories are the ones we can feel in our soul – the ones that move us to feel and long to understand.
These thoughts have been spinning in my subconscious for a while and I think are part of the reason why lately my writing energies have turned to poetry. In a poem I can quickly build an image or share a feeling – something I find difficult in prose. Last week I spent a little time reviewing my blog and discovered that over the last year I’ve been posting more and more poetry. My view of the world must be changing.
Which brings me to where my writing is today. It’s likely I’ll be shifting away from these essays to more verse. It’s also why the book I decided to write now has 18 poems with notes for 19 more. I could write a well researched book on cancer, with facts, figures, case studies and all manner of helpful stuff .
But that’s not where my ‘energy’ is. I’ve written about my prostate cancer here many times and from time to time I think I am done with that story, but I am not. There is an energy that won’t dissipate – somehow I want to make you
Feel the stunning blow of that call
see the long hallways
understand the fear
and know the uncertainty.
I want you to feel
the guarded joy of remission
the hopeful fear that all is done.
I want you know why
I still cry.
Till next week,
Andrew, what a special and amazing post you have given us for Thanksgiving. I truly appreciated it and related to everything you said: especially your beautiful poem.
Thanks for your kind words. I am starting to think that someday I might become a decent writer.