CRAFT OF LITERARY 1.3: Featuring COL Editor Christie Collins – “Surrendering to the Writing”
Just as I won’t take that step off the ledge of a plane to dive into the wide mouth of the sky. Just as I would never skinny-dip with you in your grandfather’s creek. So too do I not surrender myself to my writing.
This is not a new concern for me, but I’m coming to realize that it’s the key; it’s the answer for how I cross the bridge from where I am in my writing to where I want to be.
When I sit down to write a poem (poetry being my primary genre), 90% of the time I’m working on a concept or a narrative, and just as frequently, I have a good sense of where I want the poem to go. But, even when the direction of the poem is unclear, I try to fall back on elements I know to be true of most moving poems: a turn, crackling metaphors, anaphora (especially since my poems are usually free verse), precise lineation. Theoretically, I also push for a well-spun ending that’s both earned emotionally and concludes/renews the meaning of the poem. In each phase of the writing process, I command total control over the poem. I tell it what it will be, who it will be, when it can take a piss. While I’ve written several poems I’m quite proud of, others I’m starting to see as little constipated capsules of inhibition and stunted growth; they don’t breathe, at least not on their own, and they don’t end with effortless gusto, in part because the poem itself never stood a chance to go where it was meant to go. I’m the girl with the bird clutched in my fist wondering why it won’t fly.
I’ve found this to be even worse in my attempts at writing fiction. In speaking of his new novel Purity, Jonathan Franzen said “you have to wing it. If you don’t then it seems like it’s written from an outline. And the idea is to start to set yourself some impossible kind of place to get to, and it becomes an adventure.”
Is that it – am I afraid of adventure?
Two poets who let the poem go where it wants to go? Mary Ruefle and Dean Young. I can only imagine that they follow each poem into the cornfield, through the chicken coop, over the hill into a metropolis, and then hail a taxi back through the conclusion. Their poems surrender control and find in so doing a kind of artful freedom. Henry James says that the first lesson for a writer is to learn to be worthy of this kind of freedom.
I must surrender control. When I open my Mac to a blank document, I need to learn to take a running leap into the sky of the project – to stop writing from the ledge (where I have total and complete control) and start writing mid-air, where I don’t know if I’m safe or where I’ll land.
Christie Collins is the editor of Pretty Red Shoes and the Red Soles Series. She is also doctoral student studying Literature, Creative Writing, and Writing Pedagogy at the University of Louisiana Lafayette. Additionally, she teaches full-time in the Department of English at LSU. Her poems have recently appeared in Cold Mountain Review, Reunion: The Dallas Review, Wicked Alice, So to Speak, Still: The Journal, and Canyon Voices. Her chapbook titled Along the Diminishing Stretch of Memory is available through Dancing Girl Press.
“And I told him all that and then I knew I couldn’t tell him the rest and that I couldn’t marry a man I couldn’t tell this story to.”
-Amy Bloom, from her story “Love is Not a Pie.” Published in her collection Come to Me.
Craft of Literary features flash essays on craft, CW pedagogy, and publishing by emerging and established writers. For more information, click here.