Monday, June 18, 2012

Revision and the Magic Formula of Manuscript Making

85º ~ high temps inching toward the middle 90s rather than the low, aside from that I grow bored with repeating that "partly sunny, slight breezes, birdsong, dry dirt" refrain

Particle Physics!  Click for link.
Fact: There is no magic formula for creating a book of poetry.  If anyone tries to tell you differently, they lie.

This morning as I drifted through my routine, I wasn't sure where I wanted to go with my writing time.  At one point, I thought I'd re-read The Master Letters by Lucie Brock-Broido and work through the difference between inspiration and imitation (I even saw a blog post for today on the subject).  I also thought about using the day for revision.  Throughout these thoughts, the same feeling of being swamped by the project kept surfacing.  I felt like the poems were growing out of control, too many drafts have sprouted so quickly.  As most of you know, my typical speed is a poem a week.  Today, the full weight of having 16 new drafts in 17 days nearly knocked me down, nearly prevented me from getting to the desk.

So, I decided to try and take a look at the project as a whole.  This means that I went through each of the poems still in the "In Progress" manila folder on my desk and added them to the body of the manuscript in the file on the computer, even though I knew they weren't "ready for consumption."  For the older poems, the ones from the beginning of the month, I did some revising. Again, I felt the pressure of "too fast, too fast," as I'm used to letting poems sit, but as this project is barreling along, I also really want to get it completed.  (I'm a bit of a mess, really.)

In any case, as I sorted through the drafts, I mostly just placed them in the order they were written and added on to the file for what is now called A Fever of Unknown Origin, but when I changed the name of the file on the computer, it came out Fever Unknown, and I thought that might become the collection title at some point.  Titles!!!!  Not easy for me.

When I got all the sickly/healing speaker poems in line, I was left with the five definition poems.  Adding them in was much harder.  Yes, I wanted them to break up the speaker's voice, but when it came time to do so, I hesitated. Regardless, to follow through with the exercise, I placed them.

When every draft was placed in the larger single file of the manuscript, I couldn't quite believe my eyes: exactly 48 pages, the bare minimum for most publishers.  I must be bad at math b/c in my last count, I thought I was only at 45 or 46.  Still, I've checked and double checked.  This does not mean the manuscript is "ready."  I still don't trust all of the drafts, and there is much revision needed in these June poems.  What it does mean, is that I can see the speaker's progression more clearly.  My next job will be to print the whole thing out and see where it holds and where it springs leaks, which drafts sing and which still need more time under the revision scalpel, which might have to be abandoned (yikes!), and where I might need a different, new draft.

Fact: Every part of being a poet includes listening to the gut.  From which word goes next on the line and where that line should break all the way up to which packet should go to which journal and in what order the poems should appear in the collection, it all requires some element of instinct over formula.  It takes time, study (i.e. reading poetry!), and endless efforts that result in failure before those few, those mighty successes build the voice of that instinct to a sure thing, something to trust and follow.


Justin Hamm said...

Once again, I feel inspired and grateful for the honest way you describe the nuts and bolts of your process. I'm especially impressed at how aware you are of what you're doing as you do it. It'll be neat when this collection finds its way into the world and I can read it with so much insight into its creation.

Sandy Longhorn said...

Thanks, Justin. Glad to know it's helpful. I find that while I'm in the zone of writing, revising, ordering, I'm not really "aware" per se, but the reflecting afterward allows me to articulate at least a little bit of that "unknowable" process of creation. What's most helpful to me is having the blog as a kind of task master, and I mean this in the best possible way. It serves, in a way, like my old workshop instructors who offered up deadlines and held me to their expectations.

In any case, yes, it will be fun to see the whole thing come together and to have the record of its creation.

Kathleen said...

Yes, to gut listening.

Sandy Longhorn said...

Thanks for reading, K, and for listening.