It's been three months since my last blog post. I didn't intentionally take the summer off, it just happened. "It" being life. This reminds me of my son, who got his learner's permit a few days ago even though he turned 15 in May. He had decided he'd rather take the required teen driving course online instead of spending four intensive days in the classroom. The problem was, he lacked the motivation to make himself do the online course. Now that he has his permit and has been driving for a week, he can't wait to get his license, but he'll have to, until next August, several months after he turns 16, which brings me to the first thing I realized.
1. There's No Syllabus for Life
The problem with life is that there aren't any deadlines for your dreams. There's no syllabus to follow, no automatic system of timelines and deadlines to keep us on track. It's up to us.
So, I'm getting back to my writing schedule, and am still plugging away on my book. I originally set May 1st as the deadline to complete a rough draft. I've pushed that back several times and now my current goal is August 31st. I might make it. I'm going to keep trying. I've found through this process that I need the deadlines and the writing schedule, but I'm also trying to be gentle with myself if I don't meet them. The main thing is to keep working and I know I'll get there eventually.
I did write a lot this summer even though I didn't have an official schedule. I fit it in when I could. One of my favorite times to write was during the kids' music lessons - it was a perfect time to sit and pick at the lines of my poems, tinker with the words, and play with line breaks.
2. Finish What You Start
One problem, or maybe it's a blessing, is that I keep writing new poems and they distract me from going back and working on the older ones. The poems I'm currently writing and working on are always my favorites - they carry the heat, they're about what I'm interested in and what I'm experiencing right now.
This summer, I was editing a poem I wrote ten years ago, but since it was so old, I couldn't remember all of the details of the situation I was writing about, and when I tried to add new lines, it felt like a different voice was speaking, which was jarring. So, I'm more motivated now to try to finish my new poems sooner and then let them go, because I've also learned that if they don't quite become what I want them to, another one will come. I don't have to hang on to every good line or every poem with promise. If they're not working, I can let them go and move on to a new poem that might work better. It's incredibly freeing.
3. Submit, Submit, Submit
I submitted poems to several journals and contests this summer. So far I've only received rejections, but that's okay - I'm learning not to take it personally, and I remain optimistic. The longer I write and teach poetry, the more I realize how subjective our tastes are. My favorite poem probably isn't your favorite poem, and the poem I love today might be eclipsed by a different poem tomorrow depending on what's going on in my life and what the poem is about. Sometimes we hear or read a poem at the perfect moment in our lives and it strikes a chord. I think that's what has happened when I've been lucky enough to win a contest or have a poem picked for publication - it was simply in the right place at the right time, so I need to make sure I'm submitting my poetry often so my poems have a better chance of being in the right place at the right time.
4. Keep Moving Forward
I've alphabetized the poems in my finished binder and am in the process of writing the following for each poem on an index card: title, emotional tenor of the ending of the poem, and category/theme. Right now there are 29 poems in my binder and there are many more on the edge of being finalized and added. Once the index cards are completed, I'll play with the categories of the book and the order of the poems and figure out which ones belong together and which ones don't. It will be like Sesame Street all over again!
So, while I didn't write any blog posts this summer, I made progress in a summer-like way, free and floating, and now I'm ready to settle in like the leaves that will soon begin to fall.