I have miles of writing in my journals and notebooks and over the years, I return again and again to themes and issues––is that catharsis, compost or content?
I guess my real question is how to break out of habitual approaches, find new energy in this content, and discern what belongs in poetic voice and form? Kathryn Alexander
These questions are interrelated, even though they are substantially different. With rare exceptions (and exceptional writing), journals and notebooks are valuable as source material. They can assist us in tracking down dates, places, names, who was where when, dialogue, and details that bring veracity and specificity to our literary writing projects.
On a more significant level, journals and notebooks can reveal life patterns, both external and internal. Analyzing these patterns for themes can sharpen our focus in literary writing projects, deepen our understanding of the steps in our quest to gain understanding, and even give us ideas for narrative structure.
In regards to Kathryn’s second question, journals and notebooks are constructed with “habitual approaches.” By analyzing 50 pages from a journal or notebook, you can decipher your habitual inscription patterns. What I mean by inscription patterns is just how you just get the writing down. These patterns inevitably dull your literary writing. Some examples are:
- Repetition of sentence structures: One writer I worked with found out that in just one page she began thirty-four sentences with “I.”
- Everything is given the same weight: Everything is given the same amount of words and space on the page regardless of importance.
- Surface/shorthand writing: The type of writing that is suitable for journaling isn’t suitable for the reader who is not given enough context to translate and interpret inferences.
- No refinement nor range of form and structure: an example would be a significant gesture that already appears numerous times in an unconscious manner that you can use to systematically build a group or collection of poems around
Awareness of these kinds of habitual approaches and preoccupations releases “new energy” that refines your poetic voice and your poems’ inherent forms.
Indications when your writing is breaking free and leading the ways are:
- repetition of key words and phrases that evolve in meaning
- fine-tuning for accurate proximity and pacing throughout
- compelling musicality
- strong sense of ongoing discovery
- trusting the reader’s intelligence
- relentless deleting of asides and self-conscious vanities
- and occasional elation!
An airplane’s decent is called “a controlled fall.” Too much control or too much fall, and the writing is stuck or flounders. We have to do both almost simultaneously.
Answered by Betsy Warland.
PLEASE NOTE: As Betsy will be away touring with her book and holidaying most of June and much of July, our Writer Q & A series will be on a break through the summer.
The feature will re-commence in September.
During this time, we are eager to receive your questions. Please send them through our contact page or leave them in the comments below.