In the past few years, I’ve made a point of asking all of my writer friends the same question: what is your process like? Some of the poets I know work by mapping out their poetry, each stanza, with a definite intention and plan. Others, begin with an idea and allow it to develop as they write, sometimes altering in the process. Others use different kinds of prompts that allow for different processes. This could be, I suppose, a loaded question, but I wonder if the process used has any bearing on the kind of product?

Personally, I tend to start based on a feeling, an urge that is provided by a particular word or image. From there, it seems that the poem writes itself through me. Often, I don’t have any one intention in mind when I begin, just a general idea. Exercises in form, however, have forced me to think and plan ahead (a bit, at least more than usual). As a result, I tend to write a different style of poetry, a different style of language than the organic voice that seeps through when there are no restrictions. This offers up the question of “organic” voice. Does form force voice, like the very formal tone I notice in my writing when I produce a sonnet or sestina? Is this my individual reaction to the regulations of different forms?

Or is this just indicative of my continuing development of voice as a poet? I would suppose, although I don’t wish to be presumptuous, that our processes as writers influence our voice. Or vice versa. And by influencing our voice, influence our output.

So I extend the question: what is your process and how do you think it affects your writing?

3 Replies to “Process”

  1. I like your point about form forcing formal voice, however, I don’t think it needs to be this way. If you let yourself be taken with the form, yes, I think you will be inclined to write a more formal or even more archaic voice. My attempts at sonnets often mimic Shakespearean syntax and, while that lends itself to rhythm and meter, it changes the tone of the poem.

    In terms of process, I often free write about a chosen topic or idea. Then, having explored my own ideas, I will extract phrases and perhaps an argument, which I will use to write a first draft. Depending on my opinion of the first draft’s success, if they are complex or if I am contradicting myself heavily, I will return to a free write to further explore my ideas, or if successful I will take another draft and so on and so forth.

  2. My process is usually pretty standard; I light a candle or some incense so that I can kind of relax from what work I normally do for classes, I take up a comfortable position, maybe hanging out with one of my rats on my shoulder, and I think about something that’s been bothering me, or something that’s made my week. My poems tend to express extremes of my experience, and I feel bad, but I can’t write about the mundane without tying it to some larger event. My poems are never mapped out, never planned, and they tend to form themselves organically from the top down. I find that my process sometimes requires me to step from room to room, wander as I write.

  3. I agree with Oliver that using form doesn’t mean you need to surrender to a “formal voice.” I think that there are many ways to implement form and I think part of the fun thing about form is challenging it.

    My personal process is pretty standard as well. I sit in silence or put on a good movie soundtrack and think about something that’s been captivating me lately. I often get bored writing so if I’m not captivated by my own writing I often don’t finish a piece. If I’m having a lot of fun writing something then I spend a stupid amount of time on it rehashing and pacing and saying it aloud until I’m okay sharing it. I feel like I take a really long time writing and am a “slow” writer because of my process. I have a lot of trouble writing if I don’t feel like I have something worthwhile to write about. I also think because I often need to hear my lines as I write them this usually allows me to have fun with sound.

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