You are not the poem…or even its spouse

Image Credit Ryan North, Dinosaur Comics 195

No, that dinosaur is not married to his crappy poetry…and I’m not married to mine either. As I returned to my writing projects in the new year, I needed to remind myself of a chapter from Natalie Goldberg’s book Writing Down the Bones. It’s called “We are Not the Poem” and in it she speaks about the importance of remembering that although your work is your own, you are not your work. Here are a few sentences from Goldberg, who explains it better than I just did:

“Don’t identify too strongly with your work. Stay fluid behind those black and white words. They are not you. They were a great moment going through you. A moment you were awake enough to write down and capture.” – Natalie Goldberg, Writing Down the Bones, 34

For me, this is important to remember as I write, when my inner critic whispers that I shouldn’t say that because (even in fiction, or through a character’s voice), other people might think it’s me. I have to remember that my writing is not me when I submit a story to a workshop, and that other people’s writing is not them when I’m critiquing their work. And when I reread my work to revise it, sometimes it feels so foreign that I need to remember it was only a moment passing through me.

Besides finding a way to ignore our inner critics, the point is that everyone is fluid. Nobody stays the exact same person throughout their lives, even though we have a tendency to remember others by that one thing they’re known best for. We tend to do this with writing, especially, expecting one writer to continuously write the same kinds of stories or the same genre, or looking for telling details of the autobiographical. But as we all know as writers, the truth is that one writer can do many different things, and that writing is rarely “autobiographical” in the way that readers would like to assume.

When we write, the moment or the muse, whatever we want to call it, moves through us. If we try to stop it, it can’t move us, and that surprising voice on the other side will never come out and shock us with its brilliance or its truth. Conversely, we have to be wary of over-congratulating ourselves on our writing, of attaching ourselves to one piece of it. If we do this we are subject to the opposite delusion – that everything we write is gold, or perhaps later, that we will never write anything as good as the last piece. So, whether judgments are good or bad, our own or other people’s, we have to try and stay fluid, to look ahead and not dwell on what we have already written, or allow the ego to identify with it too much.

I hope many a great moment passes through you in 2012. Happy New Year!

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