Letters About Learned Experience From Writing Books
Whether we want to explain ourselves to readers and editors and thereby to ourselves or use what we lament about our publishing process to help others along the path in publishing, writing about it helps us as writers and builds knowledge, affirmation, and camaraderie among writers. Writing It Real is thankful to the writers who have sent in letters for me to post this month, and we hope for more to post next week on the last day of March. If you haven’t already read the three weeks of posts before this week’s, click back to find them on the website. And if you can, leave the author’s a comment or two. We all relish hearing from those who read our work.
To the Editor Reviewing This Manuscript:
Some personal questions and thoughts about this volume
of my collected poetry as you begin to read it
by Barbara Simmons
What’s going to happen to my poetry and journals?
This begs the question of what constitutes MY journals. What will happen to all the poetry I’ve written? My journals are not the neat, well-calligraphed pages of daily musings. Mine are the small post-its, the scribbled notes on the backs of receipts, the singular word that cries on the edges of newspapers, the phrase on the inside covers of books, the ‘bon mots’ on the margins of a re-read page, the remembered phrases of a poem by Elizabeth Bishop about the “art of losing.” I imagine my musings to find their way to my readers—my family, mostly—after I have touched them for the last time, so that my verbal rejoicings and sorrows, my curious wonderings and whimperings, can open me up more fully to those whom I have loved well, but, at times, have not been able to ‘erupt spontaneously’ to. Just writing an answer to this question as part of a preface to this volume of collected poetry (much coming from what I’d begun to think of in my journals) has required me to imagine all the shelves and drawers, and handbags and boxes, and book stacks and files, and nightstands and table corners, that have held both my impromptu and planned journal entries. And now, this musing helps me display how I discover myself through my reveries, more unedited and unfiltered than any ‘finished’ work —although what you will be reading has been polished (a bit)—probably closer to the truth that I coax, always, to life.
Thanks to all the journal entries for holding my words in all their raw and wild and abbreviated and cryptic states. And, thank you, readers, for taking the time to glance at what has become of them!
Some final words ~when silence gives way to sound~
Some days I feel most creative when I’m not writing, but thinking about what I want to write about, letting everything that my eyes gaze upon become beautiful possibilities for soundscapes that might appear days or weeks or months later—as poetry. My process recoils from a “poem-in-a-box” definition; I rather think my “how” as a writer is best described by the many small journals, notepads, personal folders on my computer, filled with comments like this one from February 2017:
A new year—new writings new/old me—entry for today is ‘lose control’ per Natalie Goldberg, and yet, for me, much of my life, I believe, has been without control—no sense of direction unless someone else was giving it to me, and me with a pseudo-sense of a path. New year, new directions—we’ll see!
And then, I take off—the censor gone, the paths open before me, not trying too hard to find the right metaphor or analogy, but feeling my way towards a true center. I keep a finger labyrinth on my desk, reminding me of the many paths that thinking, often followed by writing, will take me—reminding me not to worry about the center as the beginning but to feel the gentle boundaries of the many paths that lead not to emptiness, but to other ways in.
Perhaps it is the reminder that what possesses me is what I will write about. The memories that enfold me and mystify me. The stories that were never uttered to me, but hinted at. The moments hidden from me to protect me, ultimately binding me—this is what writing frees. Relationships that hurt rather than healed gave rise to words that could begin the mending. The loneliness that battens and lines my life celebrates solitude and doesn’t fear it: the writer’s moments as pre-writing give way to whispering, then writing, and, maybe, illumination.
Finitude, which becomes more poignant as I age, is an easier companion than I had imagined because of my writing. My words have become agents for eternity. It’s all in the thinking, the taking of a turn of phrase: who might be the voice-over for my life, what is a ‘sketch artist’, why did my dream last night take me in high heels down a climbing wall?
Finally, it’s the sitting, the introspection of self, the awareness of all who will accompany me when I begin to write—whether they are physically present or not—that taps into the desert and the ocean—that forms the piece. The statement. The utterance that will not disturb even if born of distress. The soul’s appearance as poem.
Thank you for sharing time with my words, my soul,
Barbara Simmons, Offertories: Exclamations and Disequilibriums, forthcoming May 2022
To New and Aspiring Writers of All Ages—a Cautionary Tale by Dorothy Ross
On the occasion of my 75th birthday, my friend, Rhoda, sent me this quote from Anne Lamott’s book, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life.
Oh my God, what if you wake up someday, and you’re 65, or 75, and you never got your memoir or novel written, or you didn’t go swimming in warm pools and oceans all those years because your thighs were jiggly and you had a nice big comfortable tummy, or you were just so strung out on perfectionism and people-pleasing that you forgot to have a big juicy creative life of imagination and radical silliness and staring off into space like when you were a kid?
It’s going to break your heart. Don’t let it happen. — Anne Lamott
“What are you waiting for, Dorothy? 85?” Rhoda had scribbled under the quote.
I read Lamott’s book, took the hint, and started cataloging and culling the more than 200 short pieces I had written over the preceding 20 years. As I began to piece together a patchwork of my life, it became obvious that what I was gathering wasn’t one continuous story, but rather a sampler of my youth, working years, sixty years of marriage and motherhood, travels, and adventures around the world. I included in my hybrid some of my favorite personal essays, quite a few of which have been published online and in printed anthologies.
In my rush to have the bound copies ready for holiday mailing, I made several grievous mistakes. First—and worst—was thinking I didn’t need an editor. That bit of hubris saved time and money, but it resulted in my failing to attach two important files to my manuscript—acknowledgments and contents pages.
If I had discussed the title with a trusted friend before committing to NOT Just a Secretary I might have chosen a more apt title. And then there are a couple of cut-and-paste errors that would have been picked up by a careful reader/editor.
So my book isn’t perfect, but it is in print. I can visit the local library and visit it on the shelf. Rhoda didn’t live to see it completed. She figured prominently on the forgotten acknowledgments page.
I self-published through Amazon because it was fast and cheap, so their website is the only place anyone can purchase my book.
NOT Just a Secretary – Amazon.com
$5.99 paperback and $4.99 Kindle
Amazon.com ISBN 978-1-70726756-9