So, it’s my third day of my “writing week” ( a kind of custom-made retreat, albeit without going anywhere) and I’ve been thinking about how to stay motivated. The British Library, where I’ve been hiding out recently, is very busy at the moment, and it’s been hard not to compare my vacantly-staring, pencil-twiddling self to the hundreds of fierce readers and glaring keyboardists surrounding me. My desk has maybe a notebook and one poetry book on it, maybe the laptop, while all around me academics – desperate to make the most of a summer without teaching or assessment obligations – totter behind towers of books and notes.
I turn to C. K. Williams. Who wouldn’t? He wrote a brilliant piece in American Poetry Review a few years ago, which works as an excellent counter to the notion that writing poetry is all about productivity, fingers hitting the keys, pencils burning through paper etc etc. Here are a few choice bits:
….the right to allow one’s mind to skip and slide away from any prescribed subject without worrying that some aesthetic or oral comandment is being violated…. (p.31)
Along with the right not to concentrate goes a corollary: the right to vacillate, to wobble, to shilly-shally, to be indecisive in one’s labors, and still not to suffer from a sense of being irresponsible, indolent or weak. (ibid)
Perhaps more valuable than his rejoinder to the Protestant-Work-Ethic exhortation to be productive is Williams’s reminder that
Poems can take a long time to arrive, and to find their final form, so surely patience is the word, here, but it’s worth emphasizing that what actually happens doesn’t seem to have the maturity and dignity the term patience implies. There’s much more flailing about, and hesitating, and clearing the throat and taking out the trash: we have to have the right to all of this. (ibid)
(C.K. Williams, 2007, ‘A Letter to a Workshop’, in American Poetry Review, July/August 2007, pp. 31-33.)