Saturday, December 06, 2008

Melissa Bank and Billy Collins on writing

I occasionally listen to the Writers on Writing podcast, and when I saw that Barbara DeMarco Barrett was interviewing Melissa Bank, author of Girl's Guide to Hunting and Fishing and the Wonder Spot, two of my favourite books - which are really short story collections, not novels - I stopped everything I was doing to listen to it. Melissa is great, dry and funny, and also has a lot of wisdom about her own writing processes, I highly recommended listening to it.

A few interesting things: Melissa said that having always written on computer, she now writes first drafts by hand, to get rid of that urge that comes to instantly revise when you are typing on screen because it's so easy to cut-and-paste, shift things around. She says of her second book the Wonder Spot, that because she "knew this would be published" she didn't have any sense when it was finished and "had to have it ripped from my hands". She often, she says, has to rely on other people to tell her when to stop revising.

She also said something that I just encountered in my writing group's flash writing session this week: I felt that what I was writing wasn't flowing, that I was pushing it, and when I read it out, no-one understood the story, least of all me... and I knew exactly why! Melissa likens it to a ouija board, saying: "If I am pressing down to hard it will just stop." I like that sense that it is something mystical, this business of writing, something otherworldly, and you know, you just know, if you are doing it instead of it doing you.

Also - just listening to an older Writers on Writing podcast interview with poet Billy Collins, who talks about how he feels like a novel is a houseguest, who can be with you for weeks, even longer, where a poem just appears, says something and leaves. I guess a short story is somewhere in between, someone who pops in for tea. He also says that he has no work schedule, he writes as quickly as possible to get it all over with!
I am trying to avoid the difficulty!....There is very little pre-thought about it, lines will come and will form a little rhythm in your head... I am always looking for initiating line, the one that triggers, gets the poem going. ... Some lines have some forward roll to them and they create instant momentum and they drive you into the guts of the poem. And then the problem is how to get out.... The most difficult part of a poem is getting rid of it, getting out and getting back to the rest of your life.... All poems are about one thing, to the poet anyway. They are not about love or death or separation. They are about their own completion... how to drive the poem to some satisfactory, not conclusion or resolution, but some satisfactory line that will bring the poem home and leave the reader with a sense of fulfilment.
He says he knows a poem is working when it does something to him, when
"it wakes you up. When the writer starts paying attention and wondering where is this all getting us and you feel yourself being carried into a new dimension. If the end of a poem arrives at a place that did not exist, was not conceivable before this particular poem began, then I think the poem is exciting, creates an impossible destination."
This really speaks to me, I think it applies to short stories as well as poems, especially flash fiction. Go listen to this podcast too.

1 comment:

harvey molloy said...

Thanks for passing on Billy Collins' comments. Are we really just composing one poem at a time? I'm encountering a new experience working on my present poems: I have certain themes I want to explore, so in this way I want to control what kinds of poems I write, but this doesn't always fit with what where my imagination takes me and there's little you can do with forced poems as they don't read that well. I don't know the answer to this so I try not to get to caught up in what the poems should be like and just keep writing.