When I was in graduate school (earning my first Master’s degree in Elementary Education), I took an excellent class called “Literature, Art and Media” from an excellent professor during the spring semester of 2004. We had the opportunity to attend a poetry reading by the 2001-2003 Poet Laureate Billy Collins.
If you ever get a chance to attend a reading by Billy Collins, I highly recommend that you do so.
We prepared for this reading by studying a few of his poems and discussing his career. Hearing him read his poems aloud, however, was a vastly different experience than dissecting them in class. His delivery, his explanations for the genesis of each poem, brought a new dimension to his art.
It was my first time ever attending a poetry reading, and I was floored.
Now, in addition to reading several of his poems, Mr. Collins also provided some discussion of his writing process, how he views poetry and the art of writing, and, knowingly or not, gave some advice to the young (and old) writers in the auditorium.
One particular piece of advice has stuck with me for the past seven years.
“You can’t just get up in the morning and commit an act of literature. It requires some effort on your part.”
I’ve been writing since I was a very small child. I’ve always loved putting ideas and stories down on paper. I’ve dabbled in poetry. I’ve played in several different genres. I’ve lovingly put my heart and soul into my written words. But as an adult, as someone who really does want to see my work in print someday, not just someone who writes for pure pleasure (though I certainly derive plenty of pleasure from writing a particularly good scene or passage of dialog), I needed to change my focus.
That one bit of advice from Billy Collins totally changed my perception of what I was doing when I sat down to write. It’s not just about the love of the craft, though without that you’ll fail before you finish the first page. It’s about loving and developing the process, learning what works for you.
There will always be fits and starts, I think, when I write, just as there will always be bouts of writer’s block (and that’s where the effort comes into play!) – and of course, life does get in the way, especially when writing isn’t your full-time job. The effort is finding those few minutes every day to consider your work – to figure out what’s coming next, rereading that scene that just keeps nagging you, or just plunking down and kicking the internal editor off your shoulder and just writing.
Put in the effort, and the act of literature will come.