I won’t lie to you, folks. The going got tough last week in my poetry-writing marathon for the Tupelo Press 30/30 Project. At about day 14, I got awfully grumbly about having to write a poem every day. My inner teenager, who does not like having to sit down dutifully with a notebook in her lap every night, pitched a fit. That surly mix of boredom, rebelliousness, and laziness rears her pimply face every time I do a poetry marathon, sometimes at the start, sometimes at the end (which is extra frustrating—I mean, come on, girl, we’re almost there!). This time she showed up right in the middle, when I still had a lot of marathoning to do.
The teenager was fed up with the schedule I was trying to keep: I’d simply replaced my late-night reading time with late-night writing time. That went fine for a couple of weeks, but two problems surfaced. First, writing at the very end of the day, every day, meant that I was writing tired, which made me resent having to concentrate so hard and resulted in some rushed, treat-’em-and-street-’em poems. Second, writing takes more time than reading, and it revs up my brain more, so I ended up staying up later than I normally do. And I’m sorry, but I’m 52 and just can’t do that anymore—I was too grumpy and groggy in the morning, when I had to haul my ass off to work. After two weeks of that, I could see it was not a sustainable writing regimen. And part of this marathon business was that I wanted to figure out how to fit more writing time into my life. (Hence the post two weeks ago about how in the hell people with full-time jobs ever find time to write.)
So I tried a small adjustment: I started writing earlier in the evening, right after dinnertime, instead of at bedtime. And now, about 10 days into the new plan, it’s going pretty well. I’ve got much more patience and brain power right after dinner, when I’m well fed and ready to shut off the TV following my hour of pathetic-single-person dinnertime watching.* It’s actually enjoyable to write at that hour. Who knew?
Millions of musicians can’t be wrong
Another thing I’m liking about this marathon is that I’m finally doing something I’ve wanted to do for years: woodshed. This is a term musicians use for time spent practicing alone, usually holed up in a room with a guitar, trying to just get better. When I’ve felt frustrated with workshops or sick of my writing, I’ve often wished I could lock myself away for a month or few and just write. It’s a simple concept, but remarkably hard to do amid life and all its distractions. But to give this 30/30 marathon its full due, I cleared my schedule (as much as can be done while working a day job) and devoted a lot of evenings to it. And a couple of days ago, when I looked back through the poems I’ve written this month, I realized, Hey, look at that—I woodshedded! I didn’t even realize I was doing it. For some reason, this marathon was more woodshed-y than, say, NaPoWriMo; because the 30/30 poems are posted in a public place, I’ve put more time into them and ended up with more poems that may turn into something publishable. (We’ll see about that.)
Now I’m concerned that at the end of July I’ll collapse in a heap and won’t write again for months. But honestly, this marathon hasn’t felt like a chore. It’s been invigorating in ways I hadn’t expected. Plus, I can’t slack off right away—I’ve already signed up to do the August Poetry Postcard Fest, where I’ll have to write a short poem on a postcard each day and send it off to a stranger. But that’s a whole different thing: short poem, one reader. Like whispering in someone’s ear. Kind of the opposite of posting the poem on a site where all can see it. And yet, still poetry. Still writing. Hallelujah.
* These days it’s usually Castle. I am a sucker for Nathan Fillion. For a long time, it was The Mentalist. So it’s pretty much whatever TNT chooses to addict me to.
Photo by Chris Brown.