How’s that working for you?

Remember Dr. Phil? When he was popular, my daughters were small and I was still watching Scooby Doo and Rugrats, but his tagline, “How’s that working for you?” was everywhere.

But this is what I do, and this is how I do it — anytime you defended your practice (in childrearing, in work, in friendships, in getting to the gym), someone was bound to say, “How’s that working for you?”

When I talk with other writers, they often get defensive. “But that’s not how I work.” “I can’t write every day.” “I have to be inspired before I can write.”

If that is working for you, then you should stick with it. I advocate writing every day, but if you can write only when you’re inspired, and you are getting poems written, and manuscripts completed, if you have finished work that you are sending out, then you should stick with your current habits and inclinations. You can also honor where you are in the process. Maybe you’re in the early stages, when you need to mull things over for a long time. Maybe for you that looks like taking long walks or baking cakes.

But if your current practice is not getting you what you want, then it’s time to tinker with it.

If you don’t write every day, try writing every day. Pick an arbitrary length of time (3o days?) and a length of time you can commit to keeping your butt in the chair (BIC, as Jane Yolen says).

If you usually don’t share your work, try sharing it. Go to an open mike, or send three poems or a short prose piece to a journal. (Check New Pages or The Review Review for venues.) Or do both. Just try it.

If you don’t have a writing group (“I have to write alone”) find one. I’m sure they’re advertised somewhere (Craig’s List? check your local library?). Find one or create one. Read Writing Alone or With Others or Minding the Muse for more ideas.

If you usually wait for inspiration to strike you, try seeking it out instead. Buy a book of exercises and actually do them. Read the sorts of poems or stories you would like to write. Read one poem and write it out in your notebook. What moves could you make that would be similar? How can your moves be radically different?

If you usually write at home, try writing at a coffee shop or at a library. If you usually sit in a chair with your feet up and your notebook on your lap (my bad habit), try sitting at a desk. If you write on a computer, try writing in a notebook (and vice versa).

Experiment. See what works.




Crossing Over

I have been singing the praises of Priscilla Long’s The Writer’s Portable Mentor for some time. But have I mentioned that I’ve been a fan of Priscilla’s poetry for…about 30 years? A popular writing teacher in Seattle (I’ve taken two of her classes), Priscilla is perhaps better known as an essayist; among her accomplishments, she authored the wonderful Science Frictions blog at The American Scholar from 2011-2013. But now, at long last, we have a book of poetry.

In her first poetry collection, Crossing Over (University of New Mexico Press, 2015), Long once again demonstrates her intense love of language. I have read most of these poems before, some of them, many times. There is a dark and desperate beauty here. A number of the poems deal with death, especially untimely death. Bridges are a literal and symbolic presence, and are interwoven with authors (some named, some alluded to or quoted) whose fictions and poems are bridges into otherwise obscure or unknown worlds. War raises its ugly head, and trash glitters amid the (always precisely named) weeds. But what strikes me most, in seeing these poems together, in this setting, is the playfulness of the language. Lines are littered with vowel rhymes and alliteration. Words repeat and ping off one another line to line and poem to poem, section to section.

Here is the first poem, which sets off a volley of sounds (and themes):


Your beauty stuns, but
it’s static, photographic.
Your stories stir the dust,
stick to the broom.
Your drawings dream
your fine-stitched quilt.
Your death — your gift
of stones to us. No blame.
Suicides are deranged
with despair. Oh Susanne.
Were there a bridge back to you,
I would take it anywhere.

The next poem, “Queen of the Cut,” is a tribute to a Washington State bridge (the first of several), but seems as though it could be part of a diptych with the first poem, its images mirroring back toward “Sister Ghost”: “Night-gem, sun-brooch, sky-jewel,” “girl-queen,” “smoke-daughter.”

The back cover copy suggests — spot on — that these poems beg to be read aloud. And even a quick sampling of lines proves it true: “Derelict brick,” “Bluebells ding the dipthongs,” “Shall I tuck a notebook / into your rucksack, your rum cake?” But I hope no one will miss the dark undercurrent of these poems, themes of fire and smoke and ash that pull and threaten to pull us under.

To read a 2011 Authornomics interview with Priscilla, click on the link. Her website is

Learning to Work

I recently read Theo Pauline Nestor’s Writing Is My Drink and I am happy to HIGHLY recommend it. Among other things, Nestor reminded me of a very important essay that my friend, Priscilla Long, made me read years ago when I was struggling to write my doctoral dissertation. Here’s a link to the article, from Nestor’s blog: Virginia Valian’s “Learning to Work.”   It is an article that all writers–especially writers who are standing in their own way–should read.