life, poetry, writers, writing

Bass fishing and Poetry

My sons and I catch a lot of bass. There’s a pond behind our home where we catch them (sometimes over and over again) and then release them. We’ve used lures, live bait, and a whole host of other options. We’ve also caught fish in all four seasons. When the cold weather comes, we just fish deeper to reach the warmer waters where these freshwater species tend to hang out. Welcome to Florida.

But one thing I’ve noticed is true for both poetry writing and bass fishing: The moment you stop trying so hard is the minute success visits. It never fails — if I’m “concentrating” on reeling in a monstrous fish, my line will stay slack for hours at a time. When I’m lost in a daydream about something totally unrelated to fishing, however, suddenly I’ve got more bites and tugs than I could ask for. The same is true for poetic inspiration; if I’m trying to “force it” too much (or be too “literary”), you can bet that future poems will stay safely in the cattails of my mind, away from any lure I may be jiggling to get them to emerge. But if I just go about my ordinary day-to-day tasks, epiphanies will come.

This observation is common among writers I know. When they go to literary retreats, workshops, conferences, and similar venues, they find themselves lacking inspiration, partially because they’re looking for it too hard. Only when we allow ourselves to relax, wander, and flow will we be visited by first lines or great ideas. There’s plenty of research to back this up too: Daniel Pink and other scholars have long known that creativity is maximized by mental ease and comfort rather than stress.

So, what’s the message? In writing as in fishing, let the good things come to you. The biggest bass and the most impressive poems tend to surface when we kick back, watch the clouds, and allow nature to take its course.

poetry, Uncategorized

Daniel Pink’s Theories and NaNoWriMo

I have never participated in National Novel Writing Month, and I do not plan to do so this year. I actually kind of object to the whole concept. I know: It works for a lot of people who ordinarily would not find the impetus to sit down and write 1,600 words per day (or whatever the “magic number” is). At the end  of one month, they find that they have created a lot of prose. Good for them.

Moreover, there are many success stories from writers about the manuscripts they created during this time of forced productivity. Several NaNoWriMo authors have found their books picked up by publishers, and some have even won awards. I congratulate them. But this post really isn’t about how NaNoWriMo works for other people. It’s about how it works for me, personally. Call it selfish if you will, but I think enough people share my quandary to warrant exploration of the topic.

When I was in my first round of grad school, I became an amateur philosopher for a while in the quest to make a John-Nash-like “new discovery,” only in the field of education rather than mathematics. I read works by Paolo Freire, John Dewey, Lev Vygotsky, Aristotle, and more modern names like Malcolm Gladwell and Daniel Pink. I related to Pink’s research because he consolidated and clearly stated exactly what I, and others like me, had known innately all along: We don’t do well what we aren’t motivated to do, and we aren’t motivated by a lot of things that corporate America has always used.

Pink identifies main “drivers” like autonomy, mastery, and purpose. Here is where my objections to NaNoWriMo come into play: Once I sense that something is “mandatory,” and I sense that it has been made that way by something or someone beyond myself, immediately I resist. I have had to overcome this instinct in the workplace and in graduate-level study — there are certain mundane tasks that others assign me that simply must be done, and so, my compliant “good soldier” self must supersede my most ingrained instincts to rebel against the compulsory. It is difficult, at best.

Why, then, if I know that I am “programmed” to shun the mandatory, would I choose to ruffle my own proverbial feathers? NaNoWriMo is a choice that quickly devolves into a chore. Engineered and engaged in by others, the purpose of NaNoWriMo is defeated by its “club-like” nature. When a self-improvement task begins to develop organizational properties, I then begin to hear its death knell. The only structure that truly succeeds is one decided upon by the individual, and in this case, the individual has given over that control to a group’s expectations instead. Failure for me as a writer would be inevitable. Some may call this assertion stark pessimism, but my own intrapersonal understandings tell me that it is valid. I have engaged in enough metacognition to know that my “rebel writer” within would sabotage any attempt by outside forces to control or “streamline” my creativity.

In addition, I could much more easily be devoting that time to endeavors I not only choose, but also design for myself. My fulfillment will be higher, my sense of accomplishment will be greater, and my enjoyment will make the tasks intrinsically rewarding. This reasoning is largely why I am a poet. My greatest contentment is found within the self-made structures, routines, and practices of an independent poetry writing life. I will probably never be a millionaire due to this simple satisfaction, but in the pursuit of my passions, I will be exponentially happier than I would be under the stressors and rigid constraints of affluence.

No, readers. I will not be participating in NaNoWriMo. When at last I sit down to begin “the great American novel,” it will be because the muse and my heart have impelled me to do so, not because I allowed a conjured-up contest to crow-bar its way into my creativity. Daniel Pink is right, and my right-brained life proves his correctness time and time again. I choose to succeed in my own way. How about you?


poetry, Uncategorized

Preparing the MFA Mind

As I spend my last day at home before the big Master of Fine Arts (MFA) in Creative Writing residency, I’m taking a few last minutes to brush up on all the reading I’ve done before this point. Everything from Aristotle to Billy Collins has been thrown at me in preparation for this upcoming session, and I’m proud to say that I’m ready.

Which leads me to a bit of history: Prior to adulthood, I was not always the exemplary student. In junior high, high school, and even as an undergraduate, my performance was, shall we say, lackluster. It wasn’t that I couldn’t do the work; it was that I lacked motivation. If I didn’t see the need for learning something, then frankly, I didn’t learn it. Daniel Pink talks a great deal about motivation in his book Drive, and in many ways, I am the poster child for his theories: If I like it, if I want it, if I enjoy it, I’ll do it. Likewise, if I am given autonomy to perform tasks (academic or otherwise), then I am largely happy, and I will produce. However, the flip side of this coin also holds true. I’ve spent the better part of my life trying to overcome my own resistance to math, in particular. My mind simply does not operate in mathematical ways, even though I can be very logical and reasonable at times. Also as an adult, I have had to face the truth of maxims that my parents constantly threw at me: “You might not LIKE it, but you still have to do it,” and “We do what we HAVE to do so we can do what we WANT to do.” So, when an unpleasant task comes my way, I have learned to discipline myself, break chores into pieces, and do all those things that my mom and dad (for years) tried to persuade me to do. For me, changing required firsthand experience — all the idioms in the world don’t replace real-world encounters for learning purposes.

In my first graduate program, which was in education, I earned a 4.0 grade point average. Here again, it was subject matter that I enjoyed, and which I decided to pursue. In addition, I was paying for the education myself. Straight A’s were my own personal expectation and goal (not anyone else’s), and therefore, I fulfilled that aim. Now I find myself having to persist in this MFA reading, as well. While many of these reading selections are interesting, I notice that I have to force myself to stay aware and absorbent to the ideas presented on the written page (especially Aristotle). By steeling my mind to assimilate the learning that I personally want, I am preparing to reap the benefits of an education that I have tailored to my own interests and needs. My eventual goal is to teach at the college level, but to get there, I have to pay the piper first. I suppose now would be a good time to stop procrasti-blogging and hit the books. Brain, don’t fail me now!