Turning Down The Censor
By Carol Peters
I wake between four and four-thirty in the morning. By five, I’m up drinking tea and journaling about the weather, my weight, how I feel, the dreams I remember, rhymes, lines, scraps of poems, and whatever else comes. Lately, my dreams have become repetitive so I guess at meanings — the babies must mean that I want a dog, the traveling that I’m still trying to get home.
Otherwise, I mostly write by reading. I read more than one book at at a time: fiction, biography, poetry, criticism, spiritual books. Today it’s Joanna Scott’s novel, Follow Me; Charles Olson’s The Maximus Poems; Robert Bly’s My Sentence Was a Thousand Years of Joy; Rae Armantrout’s Up to Speed; Multiformalisms: Postmodern Poetics of Form edited by Annie Finch and Susan M. Schultz; and Eknath Easwaran’s The Bhagavad Gita for Daily Living, Volume 3: To Love Is to Know Me. I tell you this not to impress but to confess my need to be blanketed with other writers’ words. I may not read much of every book every day, but they occupy me, they lodge in my hangouts — armchair, couch, chaise, bed, bathroom, deck chair — and they hide. I roam the house calling, “Rae,” “Eknath,” “Charles.”
Things I want to remember — new or favorite words, phrases, sentences — I copy into my journal. Sometimes these jottings become blog posts. I seldom go back and read my journals, but the writing down often makes a memory.
Whenever a book triggers something — a sound, an image, a line, a character, a story — I close the book and reach for my journal. I write the date and then whatever comes. I try not to think. My rule says if I think something, I must write it down. If I’m telling the truth, I must tell the real truth (If I’m inventing, anything goes). I don’t cross-out. I accept the banality of my ideas and phrasing. My censor chatters, but I turn her volume down. Frequently, I look back at the triggering book for quotes or additional inspiration. When the energy runs out, the session ends. This write anything practice generates drafts that become part of my ongoing project(s) as well as material that doesn’t appear to relate to anything, but it all comes out of me so they must be part of my lifelong project. I need them whether or not I can figure out how or where.
If I’m excited about what I “heard,” I copy what I wrote to my laptop with a text editing webapp that runs inside my browser (read the Wikipedia entry for webapps). The advantage of a webapp over Word is that my work is stored on public servers that are backed-up and replicated in numerous locations. Nothing short of a worldwide calamity will lose or corrupt my work.
Everything I type into my laptop, I print out and file in a 3-ring “drafts” notebook. I sort by title, or if no title, by the first word(s) of the piece. Regularly, I pull pieces on a particular subject or from a specific time period and read through them. Then I arrange the printouts on the floor until I find a pattern or order that interests me. Usually something happens during this process that causes me to choose one or more pages and start revising. Revisions, which may occupy me for days or weeks, go into notebooks labeled “cooling,” “done,” or “publishable.” “Cooling” means the piece still needs lots of work, but first I need to forget it. “Done” means I want to say it’s done — it’s close but needs another tweak or two. “Publishable” means I’m ready to submit it. Whatever work is left on the floor at the end of a revision period goes back in the “drafts” notebook.
This all sounds very organized, but it’s not. I forget to print, forget what I’ve written, refuse to file for weeks on end, change my filing procedures from topical to chronological and back again. Still, my filing methods, even when out of date or reinvented, make a framework for me. Days when I can’t journal because my head is empty or too full, I sit on the floor and browse a notebook, enjoy (or hate) my work, find something to revise or start all over. Days when I can’t do anything else, I read. Everything I’ll write is there.
About the author:
Carol Peters is a poet, translator, teacher, blogger, egghead, geek. Apobiz Press recently published Sixty Some, her first full-length poetry collection. Her 2008 chapbook, Muddy Prints, Water Shine, was #57 in the New Women’s Voices Series from Finishing Line Press. Her poems and book reviews appear regularly in print and online journals. Carol lives in Charleston, SC and Hakalau, HI. You can find her on facebook, on her blog, and on her website.
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