Day Seventy Eight: The Process

Some of those who take part in the one a day project may be aware that if you sign up for the post a day 2011 mailing list on the wordpress site, then each day they send out an email as inspiration. Today’s topic is “How do you find your muse?” and it asks “When you sit down to blog, or have a creative project of any kind you need to work on, how do you get yourself motivated to do it? What are your rituals or habits?”

Here’s a link to it.

I’m really interested in the creative process. Not just my own, but also others. It’s varies from person to person and I find it fascinating to hear about how it works for other people.

It’s something that started when I started writing songs, I became obsessed with how other songwriters do it, particularly with regards to really prolific writers like Bruce Springsteen or Ryan Adams (there’s a great insight into the former’s creative process in the documentary regarding the writing and recording of Springsteen’s Darkness on the Edge of town). Since then, the desire to know has waned – probably because I no longer find myself struggling with creative impetus, and if I ever find myself unable to “create” on a particular day, I just give in for that day.

Anyway, let’s not talk about the defeatist side of creativity.

So how do I find my muse when it comes to writing?

Here’s the rough break down.

Usually, poetry is inspired by things that happen in every day life. In a very Morgan sort of way, I enjoy giving voice to objects that don’t have one (like a couch, for example) and in the same way, I enjoy giving life to scenarios that I have been in. Sometimes, though, there’s a greater concept at play (like the apocalypse in “The Trumpets” or a family members death in “Ending” etc).

The process in itself is simply this:

Whatever the inspiration is, I’ll write down my feelings/thoughts in a very simple way. The language is usually quite straight forward and unembellished. Before I get to writing, I’ll think of or compare the situation to another. The best example of this I can point to is in “The Trumpets” where even though the overall theme of the poem is about the aftermath of a nuclear apocalypse, there is also this idea that it is heavenly judgement. On the first draft, the other “layers”, as it were, of language that are used for metaphor begin here also. So, in essence, you have the main theme then the secondary (or tertiary) theme imbued within the poem. I rarely start to write without having these two ideas in mind.

Further drafts usually involve changing the language so that repetition is taken out (unless the narrative requires it) with the wording and phrasing tarted up. I’ll also start thinking of ways to change the wording or phrasing so that it better suits the other ideas I wish to put into play in the text. For example, in “Ending” the overall idea is to describe the idea and feeling of someone close to you on their death bed, but a lot of time was spent adding a layer of subtext so that there this situation is also a kind heaven for those involved, as the family is together in the same place for the first time in many years, as well as it being like a sort of church or heavenly place for the person involved. Each word is carefully used in order to give maximum effect, every one is thought about and placed carefully.

When I started this blog, many of the things I’d written were just vague and meaningless. So I retired from writing poetry for a long while. When I started doing the one a day thing, I combined the knowledge of literature I’ve attained in university, with the technique I’d picked up and it was initially quite difficult to write something in this way. I laboured over language for a long time. “The Trumpets” took about 10 hours of editing to make sure that the language was perfect, the tone was right, the imagery was correct and, most importantly, that the form and meter were exactly as I wanted it (iambic heptameter free verse). Seven lines for the seven days the Earth was created in the bible, but also seven lines per stanza because of the Book of Revelations, and the seven churches, seven trumpets etc – all the seven’s that take place in the Book of Revelations. This was a deliberate attempt to compare this post apocalyptic vision of Glasgow to the “end of days” that takes place in the Book of Revelations.

It’s worth noting here that I’ve moved away from that kind of writing. I often hear people I know – intelligent people who are pretty well read – saying that they don’t read much poetry because they either find it hard to relate to it, or difficult to understand. Edwin Morgan’s style is infinitely accessible, easy to read and understand, but was also dense and packed with meaning. Although the modernist poets were great (Edwin Muir is a huge influence) their stuff can appear academic, and difficult for people to read. So, taking a leaf out of Morgan’s book, I’m attempting to write stuff that is more accessible. Not because I’m dying for people to read it, love it and praise me on it, but because I think it’s important that people read poetry, and they shouldn’t be deterred in any way whatsoever from doing so.

And frankly, it’s a lot more fun writing that kind of stuff anyway.

Ok, so I know that this is horribly self indulgent, but I’m sharing this because I’m interested in other peoples creative process and I hope maybe someone is interested in mine.

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