KaBooM WritersKaBooM Writers

Welcome to the online presence of KaBooM, a writing group that has sustained the creative lives of a diverse group of women for over a decade. We hope that getting to know us will inspire you, too!Welcome to the online presence of KaBooM, a writing group that has sustained the creative lives of a diverse group of women for over a decade. We hope that getting to know us will inspire you, too!

Welcome to the online presence of KaBooM, a writing group that has sustained the creative lives of a diverse group of women for over a decade. We hope that getting to know us will inspire you, too!


The KaBooM Writers Notebook: Our Blog

The Art of Finishing

 

Blog photoGreat is the art of beginning, but greater the art is of ending.”  Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

When we moved this summer, I found these words tucked into a pile of old clothes.  The yellowed half-page torn from a steno notebook nearly thirty years ago had hung on the back wall of our walk-in closet above the small desk where I wrote.  That walk-in closet was the “room of my own” I claimed in our brand new house in 1984 as I mothered three children aged eight to one.  I knew I was good at starting things; I wanted to remind myself that finishing a piece of writing mattered.

Though I have finished books of poetry, an MFA, and a novel since those days of writing in the closet, I still find finishing a challenge.  Most writers struggle to complete a work and wonder if it is our fault that it takes so long to get it right.  The form we glimpsed as we set out on our poem or novel becomes less clear as we write ourselves into the interior.

Thanks in part to Louise DeSalvo’s book, Writing as a Way of Healing, I have learned the value of reflecting on the writing process for each piece I undertake.  I set down what I have realized and what I plan to do next.  Capturing insights and seeing a way ahead has been so important in my work that I’ve incorporated keeping a process journal into the assignments for the classes I teach.

Here’s an excerpt from one of these:

September 16, 2009

And now for my fifteen minutes on the novel — the assignment I gave the Finishing class.

It’s one thing to write about the novel and have its stacks of pages safely out of sight  . . .  It’s another to read those pages and see what’s there and despair of ever making a coherent book out of them.  . . .  But it was necessary for me to see that my coming to know the story, to see its end and feel a general shape for it, was not the same as . . . having worked it out on the page for myself.  What was needed was for me to accept that I still had a period of wandering in the wilderness ahead of me, and that I had to surrender to that if I were to write the novel I want to write.

 

I wish I had made entries like this more systematically as I drafted my novel.  And that I had not buried them in the pages of my journals where I cannot easily access them.  Louise DeSalvo says in The Art of Slow Writing that she keeps her process journals on the computer where she can search them easily.  She accesses them to remind herself of the stages in finishing a work: “Whenever I’m stuck . . . I turn to an earlier journal and . . . learn that I habitually think about abandoning a project just before I see how the book should be organized; this helps me reengage with my current work more confidently.”

I was wise to post Longfellow’s words in that closet.  Finding a way to the end of a piece is an art in itself.  An art that isn’t only about finding the best ending, but also about having the patience to discern the story I’ve wandered into, to receive its wisdom and work out the techniques I need to tell it well.

In Praise of Moodling

Poem by Snail Light

“Trust the Process,” I tell people all the time, quoting my friend and mentor, George Ella Lyon.  Trust the Process, I copied out and put up by my computer when I began to seriously give myself to writing.  Did I know what it meant?  No – not any more than I knew what it meant to be a mother when I gave birth to my first child more than thirty years ago.

 

Oh, I had inklings (“inklings” – the perfect word, a scribble of knowledge, a sense of what’s needed – ink – but no clear idea of what to do with it!), but I had to be taught by the day-to-day doing and failing and despairing and going on.  Writing has taught me how to write and keeps on showing me the way.

 

Though I had people like George Ella and Brenda Ueland, in her book If You Want to Write, to point me in useful directions, I often resisted what I most needed to hear.  Like this, from Ueland’s book:

 

“So you see the imagination needs moodling,–long, inefficient, happy idling, dawdling and puttering.  These people who are always briskly doing something and as busy as waltzing mice, they have little, sharp, staccato ideas, such as ‘I see where I can make an annual cut of $3.47 in my meat budget.’ But they have no slow, big ideas.  And the fewer consoling, noble, shining, free, jovial, magnanimous ideas that come, the more nervously and desperately they rush and run from office to office and up and downstairs, thinking by action at last to make life have some warmth and meaning.”  [p.32]

 

Years of being told to “quit that daydreaming” had nearly knocked the moodle impulse out of me.  But on days when I can recapture it, when I can slow myself down, I find that those “slow big ideas” are still there, clothed in images as water clothes itself in towering clouds on summer afternoons.

 

Some of you will resist this mightily (as I did), and your poetry will be as good as it always has been.  That’s about it.  You will get a good idea for a poem or follow an impulse that works itself out quickly in line and with images or sound, and you will be happy with it, and it can probably even get published, and that is that.  “Why moodle?” you’ll ask.  “It seems a waste of time, and I’m not getting any younger.”

 

Let the poem belong only to you for a while.  Or, better yet, put it away after you have drafted it – even if only for a week—and then take it up again.  Meanwhile, let it stay on your mind.  Jot things on the back of old envelopes – notes to the poem, reworkings of lines, a new image or detail.  Bring these to the poem as you’d give a gift to a newborn.  Try them on the poem.

 

Talking and busyness fill our days for the most part.  If, by chance or design, you find some time to simply be with your writing, please do not allow guilt or untimely interruptions to draw you away.  Trust what flows into the work from beneath.  Then go to work with inspired joy and abandon shaping it!