Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Writing Is Not A Mystery - Creating A Safe Space

"You can write anything.   
Just don't show it to anybody."*
- Allen Ginsberg
This is so simple and so important.  And so often forgotten.  The writing is yours - of you, from you, and first for you.  If it's not good (by your standards and yours alone), if it makes you uncomfortable, if it scares you, put it in a drawer.  Forget about it.  Move on.

Somewhere I read that Bukowski said that when you wrote a poem, you should put it away for 18 days and then come back to it.  I don't know if this attribution was correct, I don't know what it might be about 18 days, but sometimes putting things away for 18 days - or forever - is a great idea.  A little distance can help.

We are starting to get into the realm of editing and rewriting here, just a bit, which we're not quite ready for.  However, I do want to stress how incredibly important it is to create a safe space for you and your writing.

Visceral, go-for-the-jugular Rachel McKibbens pointed this out in a workshop she ran at WOWps - and no one would say her work lacks courage and candor on the stage.  Being safe is a different principle.

As a poet/performer, there are poems you write and immediately want to jump on stage and read before an audience.  You are burning to share, you are burning to see if it works for other people like it does for you. There are also things you write that make you cringe in parts, that feel too fleshy and raw.  Feel free not to jump up on a stage and read them.  Feel free not to blog them, tweet them, FB them, tumblr them, or share them in any way, until and unless you are comfortable doing so.

This is permission to hide some of the things that you write.  This is therefore permission to write anything and everything that you want.  Are you a mom with 4 kids longing to be the next Anais Nin?  Go ahead.  Write it.  If it makes you uncomfortable, put it in a drawer, or an encrypted file, or a locked folder when you're done.

I'm not suggesting you all go out and become Henry Dargers - working in private secrecy your whole life and revealing a treasure trove of wondrous oddities upon your death.  If you find you're hiding more than you are exposing, it may be that you need to realign some things in your life, or tackle some issues in a different forum, with guidance.

Detail from a larger work by Henry Darger

What I'm saying is that there's no need to block the creative impulses you feel in order to appease a hypothetical, perceived future audience.  So you give yourself permission to never show them while you're writing, and even after you've written it.

There are times you have to write through something to get to something else.  This is true in relationships, too - you have to work through some knots in order to be able to grow.  By blocking the impulse out of fear of exposure (a huge universal fear), you may block yourself from getting through that difficult bit of writing in order to find the juicy writing you have been seeking.

Ginsberg was arguably one of the most open writers and people ever.  Just look at his eyes in the picture above - it's like he's living right there in the lens.  But he still knew about creating safety for yourself.  Writing can be an emotional maelstrom.  The subjects you want to tackle are the ones with the most energy and may also be the ones most fraught with peril.  Give yourself permission to back off.

I evolved a rule a while back - anything that makes me cringe in any way, any where, for any reason gets cut.  It could be too personal - or personal in an incorrect way for sharing.  It could just be bad writing.  If it makes me cringe, I cut it.  Simple.  Useful.  Effective.

Find your own healthy boundaries that allow you to express yourself fully, while allowing you to present your best work publicly.  Find or create a comfortable nurturing area in your life for your writing - whether it's writing in your favorite cafe, or an easy chair that was your grandmother's, or working in a writers' group - find your spot and cultivate it.

*I haven't been able to verify this quote before posting, however, I've had it written down long enough that I believe I've memorized it correctly.  However - it may be a paraphrase.

(This blog is part of a series - you can look the others up on the side, or go to the blog search and type "writing is not a Mystery" - either should work.)

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