A Secret to Clarity… That We Already Sort Of Knew

Like every other poet on the planet I have 1,000 notebooks with two or three pages filled that I abandoned for the next distraction. I had in my mind a plan to fill them all… this one for thoughts, this one for usable one-liners, that one for inspirational quotes that I would need later on for something important. Every few years I go through them and slice out the pages I used with an exacto-knife. Clean notebooks. The pages I would save for something important… I ended up with files and files full of random crap. Some of them poems, and even then they would be lost in the muck.

I was good at school, so I could keep that neat and tidy. But then again there was a ring leader cracking their whips at the lions, and a syllabus to follow and assignments and grades to check my progress. And even when the book bags got messy there was a sense of order on the timeline of classes. When it was all over I could just toss out the papers I didn’t want and move on.

But this is another beast.

Being an Internet poet who nobody has heard of is a bit of a challenge in itself. The blogger joke is that only your mom reads your blog… but I’m not sure if mom knows how to get on here, so joke’s on me 🙂  Getting the guts to post most of this stupid junk for blind peer review is nerve wrenching. Not to mention that there are things I know could be better, so resisting the urge to change the original instead of posting a new one is particularly difficult for me. There is pretty much nothing fun about having a blog, except of course the joy of no gatekeepers and no rules and no grades (though I did like the grades in school, I was one of those kids).

I encourage you to get out there and write… write about your job or your girlfriend or that one time at band camp… write because that’s what keeps us alive, it’s what makes us real and immortal and free. Don’t think you have to give something profound on the first try, the profound comes later. Later later later. Just write it down.

Once I had started writing things down I realized that I needed a plan… I needed a way to see how I was doing and I needed to work through the things in my collection that bothered me before I could start taking criticism from others…

I just read a compelling article on the Internet about how it takes ten years of deliberate practice to become a master, on Lifehacker.com. Please read it. It’s lovely. When I was working on my honors thesis (2 years ago ish) I noticed the same thing about the internet poets. Most of them had put in at least 10 years before their blog got any traction. It seemed like a weird number since the Internet is such a fast moving vehicle but it goes to show that even in this quick click life there are still mountains to climb.

So, we’ll talk in 7 years and I’ll let you know if that ten year figure is true. Until then there was something else the article mentioned about deliberate practice. I had been doing some specific practicing and goal setting here that I thought I would share since I am a process poet and all.

First, there’s a goal. I decided to write 100 poems and go from there. As I got closer to that number my next steps seemed clearer. Why have 100 poems that are shit, if you can go back and fix them. Of course, meeting that goal and having something to accomplish was a major player in keeping this site alive.

Second, there was a promise. I improved on existing material and tackled some of my own issues in an open forum, which, in some small way made me stick with it. Telling someone about a goal makes it so much harder to quit. If you can make sure there is someone in the world asking how that project is going so you have to own up to your hopes.

Third, there was a spreadsheet. It seems a little off base for a poet but having them all in one chart helps me see what must be done, what steps are next and where to go from here. I find that the easiest thing to lose is focus. The poems, the editing, the structure and the form come naturally, they are fun to get lost in, but the focus to move from one task to the next is a hard for someone so close to the work. For an outsider, or in school a professor, it was easy to follow a syllabus because someone else was in charge. Now that I am in charge I needed something similar to check off and feel accomplished.

These are my tactics, they will be different than yours. But I felt that in the name of transparency, which is the point of this blog, there needed to be another lens into the progress. so at the bottom of all of these poems and their sprawling versions is a spreadsheet, just like any other measurable, accountable project.

Keep writing, and set yourself up for success with a goal. Whether it’s 100 poems or a chapbook or a post a day, find your own secrets to success and you will be more than just a poet, you will have captured your potential.

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